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.
Sometimes when I am really feeling in a dark place I try to check in with my body. Where am I feeling the darkness and where is the pain centered? Most of the time it is centered in my chest. I tend to have more problems with my asthma when I am having a hard time. Yet something that I always feel is a tightness in my whole body.
It feels as though my body has closed in on itself and solidified. The muscles all feel tight and I have very little range of motion. And though yoga and I have a strained relationship yoga has been helpful. I often think of yoga as that friend that keeps offering you a glass of water when you are thirsty only you don’t realize you’re thirsty. And then when you finally figure out that yes, indeed you are thirsty the friend hands you the water, without rolling their eyes.
It is at this time that I find that I have to open my heart a little bit and accept the hand of a friend. I do not have a steady yoga practice, obviously. But I do have a few positions that I do that help open the door to a more relaxed body. I have found that by locating where I am feeling the pain and the stress I can better judge how to help myself. Panic and stress are located in my chest. Fear and trauma memory are in my feet, (which were damaged when I was young), and most everything else settles into my shoulders and back.
By understanding my body, which has taken me a long time, I can work out with whatever is bothering me. And yoga helps me get through to those spots. If I do it. Standing with my palms pressed together behind my back, fingers pointing up has centered me and allowed me to think through whatever is pressing on me more than anything else. It helps me to breathe and find that opening in the door that I need to be able to step out of the dark place.
For today I am accepting the glass of water that is offered to me. I will quiet my mind and feel my body return to me. In slow and small increments that allow me to breathe.
This has been a hard week. Disappointments and events that were very scary. All things that happened in the last few days. Good things have happened as well. But some of the things that happened were very hard. I called a couple of friends and we worked through some of the problems. They gave me good ideas for coping and for making it through the day. Nothing huge just a lot of things that hit on triggers that send me on a journey into the dark place.
I try to avoid the dark place. Basically I go there when I am worried or when things seem to be going very much in the wrong direction.It is not a nice to place to visit. Let alone stay for an extended period of time. Today there were several things that happened that had me opening the door. Fortunately for me I was spotted by my best friend as I seemed to be heading toward that place. And an intervention ensued.
In our house an intervention of this sort usually involves hugs and someone saying that you seem to be headed in that direction. This makes you have to acknowledge that, yes indeed you are going in the wrong direction. Does this always work? No, not always. Sometimes it works really well and other times it is just a time for someone to sit with you.
Though I have been flirting with opening the door to the dark place today I have decided to keep it firmly shut. I might just look through the peek hole and see what is happening inside. Usually though it is too dark to be able to tell what is going on. Which is a good thing. Today is going to be a self care day. And I will spend it with friends and family doing things that bring me joy. Because the dark place is just too dark.
Usually what happens when I am severely stressed is that I go to ground. I block out the world and go into preservation mode. This means that I do only what is necessary to sustain my life and those around me. I cook meals, make sure everyone is fed and cared for. That is it. I do some escaping into books and try to keep as low of a profile as possible. I stop doing anything. Even though I know it helps or is good for me.
However, that type of reaction is no longer possible. Now I have other things that need to be taken care of. I have school work. I have responsibilities at church. I have other things that need my attention and can not hide in my cave. In all fairness it has been five years since I have experienced this kind of stress. And changing my reactions to it has been hard.
I was just starting to begin a type of yoga practice that was helping. I will just say for the record that yoga and I have been circling each other like cautious adversaries for years now. And we had just recently begun to have conversation. And even though I know that yoga helps in times of stress for me. It is very hard to stop the preservation mode once it starts. I have however stopped it though not before it began to establish itself. I am still doing things, going out, went on a double date with my son’s in laws (who also happen to be good friends), and gone on interviews for internships. It is that last one that has sent me into this new stress mode.
The one thing that I did not back away from was the mindfulness and meditation. Well, my form of meditation. Sitting in the sun and watching the birds at the bird feeder. This did not stop my body from reacting to the stress with the usual self defense mechanisms but it kept me functioning and going forward with the interviews. ( I could live with out the clenched jaw and the lack of solid food that the jaw pain brings.) I am even writing today, which totally flies in the face of hiding.
And like all things there is a cost. I am willing to pay that price. Because being out in the world and living. Not hiding away and waiting for it to be over so I can finally rest. Is so much better. It is so much better to be breathing in the warmth of the sun with friends than to hide at home. I am going out into the world and experiencing the stress and the pain and the confusion. I am hoping that each day is better. And it usually is. There is always something good. Even with the bad things that happen. There is always good things.I think about those good things while I watch the birds, play with my daughter, read to her and with her, bake, and just breathe.
So even though I am getting tired of just drinking my meals or eating soft food. The tension is lessening as I move forward and keep going. I am letting go of the defense mechanisms that I do not need and trying to find peaceful ones to take there place. Because I have a lot more to offer the world if I am in it (evenly painfully) than if I am hiding away in my cave. Yoga and I will have that conversation again today, and I will watch the birds, do my reading, and live in the world.
I rarely say that I am fine when asked how I am. I say things like: I’m still here, still living, doing well, or one of those days. Pretty much anything. But I don’t say I’m fine if I’m not. I stopped lying about myself a while ago.
It all started off with a book I read about people who were critically ill. In the book the author said that saying you are fine when you are not is basically sending die messages to yourself. It is telling yourself that the truth of how you are is not important. I spent a long time thinking about that and what it meant to me.
What I came up with was that for years someone had been telling me that I was unimportant, not as important, or any other way of saying it. And that if I believed that I would never move forward. I did believe that for years and years. But in the last ten years I have begun to feel important. And saying that I am fine when I am not does not say to myself that I am important in any way.
So now I have a pithy remark to make if I am not really fine. Or I just redirect to the weather and avoid the question. There are people who do get the truth to that question. But those people are the ones that have earned the right to know those truths. They are the people who give me the sacred space of truth and understanding. I hope that I give that in return.
When someone asks if you are fine, think before you answer. Are you?