After a long break in writing this blog I began to wonder why am I writing this or who am I writing it for. I started writing this to tell some of my stories and to just feel like maybe there was someone out there that this could help. Maybe there was someone who just needed to know that they were not alone in their suffering and healing. I never intended this to be a forum on my trauma. What I really wanted was to tell my story in small chunks and talk about how I was moving through the process so that maybe someone else would not feel alone. I hope that in some small measure I have done that. Thanks for reading.
Since the last time I went to the hospital my anxiety level has increased. I was very blessed with caretakers who tried to make sure that through all of the procedures I felt safe. I knew that I was safe. Feeling safe when many of the practices in the hospital trigger traumatic memories of the torture that I endured is different.
For one of the procedures they needed to anesthetize me and put very deep under. I was terrified at the thought of not having any conscious control of my body. The doctors let me hold the mask over my face and I was in control for as much as I was able to be. As I was coming out of the anesthesia I could hear myself talking. Some of the things I said were trauma stories that I have told no one. That was very disconcerting.
Through the hospital stay I did my meditation everyday. It was sometimes for only five minutes. There were a few times that I was able to meditate for longer periods of time. It is very hard to focus on the breathing when you are in the middle of panic and anxiety so I often used guided meditation. When the meditation did not work I tried to listen to a piece of classical music that seems to work as though it is magic for my anxiety. I have this particular piece in three or four variations. I put them all onto a playlist and hit repeat. With ear buds in I was able to fall a sleep and rest for a few hours.
Flashbacks and dissociation happen very seldom these days. I have been working for a long time to process through a lot of the trauma. Years and Years of working through the trauma. And yet there still seems so much still to work through. I have found that the old adage that for every bad person there are hundreds of good people you can turn toward to help and to heal.
The anxiety seems to be harder to face and to work through. And it always scares me because my first thought is that my heart is misbehaving again. I do a body check of where is the pain. When I slow down long enough to actually put my hands over the painful spots it is never my heart. I can then stop and breathe and slow things down and put them into perspective. This means slowly reviewing what just happened in the last half hour. Sometimes there is a delay on the anxiety and the cause could have been anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour before. Finding the trigger and working forward to a better place helps.
The meditation seems to be the best course for me at this time. Though I now have to augment the meditation with medication to get me to a point that the meditation helps. Primarily I use the Calm.com app for meditation. It has soothing sounds as well as a timer or a peaceful voice that leads the meditation for a set length of time. Lately I have been taking advantage of the gratefulness.org resources. What ever format the meditation comes in I hope that it helps.
Now that I have finished with school it is time to figure out how I will pay back my student loans. I have been offered a job where I have been doing my internship. However, I am uncertain as to whether this will be a good fit. I have spent the last 11 1/2 months working somewhere while trying very hard to work within my limitations and not look like i have limitations. This has involved hiding in the bathroom and doing deep intentional breathing and simply smiling through the day regardless. It also involves trying to come down from a days worth of anxiety attacks that I have hidden deep down.
I finally lost it a few weeks ago and made some of my unhappiness known. There had been several ongoing things that simply made me feel not very valued. And they had never been addressed regardless of my hints. Apparently I needed to have a meltdown and spend my lunch hour crying in my car for anything to happen. And now with just 3 weeks of my internship left things are finally being addressed.
As I listened to people’s apologies I tried to follow my wise sister’s advice and look for sincerity. There was sincerity with many of those that have tried to make things right. I have yet to meet with one of those people who have inadvertently made it a hard internship. But I don’t think there will be a problem. They really want me to work there.
The real problem is that I have struggled for nearly a year and it gets harder and harder to get out of bed and go to the internship site and I am not sure this is where I can work. It is not because, or at least not only because, of the difficult time I have had. I have made it through because I have seen an end. There is a definitive time when this internship will end. I do not know if I can work somewhere full time where I cannot shave the corners to make my oddly shaped peg fit.
Making things fit my needs so that I can function in the world is something that I have become very good at. I have a safety list for things that I need to do that I struggle with. And protocols that make it possible for me to feel safe. Since feeling safe is something I did not have until as an adult I found ways to make it happen I am very aware of when I do not feel safe. For example: My tire went flat. I changed it and we got it fixed. However now I feel unsafe driving. I check my tires every time I get in the car or get out. At some point I will regain that safe feeling. It takes time.
Generally I learn from things that happen. I overreact to things and I see by the expression of those around me or from my own processing that what I did was an overreaction. I then learn how to react appropriately. It is always a learning experience. New experiences throw me for a loop. I know that this is normal. But I do not think it is normal to break out in a rash and not breathe as well as having your ulcer flair up when you have to fill out new forms. Once I do it however I know how to do it and the reaction is not the same.
What I am faced with now is how do I get my needs met, shave the hole to fit my peg and fit the needs of an employer? I am still looking for opportunities and also looking for ways to create opportunities. I just hope that through all this I can find a way to not hide my limitations but to make my experience something of value. Because I know that I have a lot to offer that is of value. I simply need to find a way to make a square peg fit in a round hole.
Someone once asked me what it felt like to have PTSD. They asked me what it was like and how did I handle the things that came up because of the PTSD. I don’t remember what it was that I said or if I was able to give an accurate assessment of what it feels like. But I was asked this question again recently. And though I have a better handle on life, my depression and the triggers that set off the terrors, panic and anxiety this is what it is like.
It is waking up at night for no real reason with sweat pouring off you and your heart racing with no way to calm yourself. It is walking into a room and having a door shut to loudly and feeling like someone just hit you with a mega dose of adrenaline and you have no where to run and depending on where you are, no way to release it. It is walking through a room and a certain smell hits you and you find that you are not in the room but reliving some of the most horrific things that have ever happened. It is going to work in the morning and leaving as much of the PTSD as you can outside the door so that you can function and get through the day. It is walking back out to your car where you try to put all the pieces back together and come down from the amazing job you did of holding things together in spite of the panic.
It is learning how to draw on the things that you have learned as a survivor so that you can help someone else through their own hard times. It is trying really hard to not judge people about how they respond to you because they have no idea you are struggling to keep it together. It is realizing that for the last however many years you have lived in a fog just to get through and that you have missed so much of your life. It is living with a sense of impending doom and panic when there is nothing to be afraid of anywhere near you. It is about being terrified of losing everything that is good in your life because for the first time you don’t feel alone.
It is also about waking up and realizing that you are still alive. It is about remembering to breathe. It is about relearning to open your heart. Relearning to trust. Relearning that the world is not as dangerous or as bad as you thought. It is about being in this moment right now and knowing that I am safe. It is about remembering to feel the snow as it hits my face and not thinking about any other thing that may have happened in the snow. It is about an amazing act of courage that gets you out of bed, through the day, through the large groups of people, and safely back home. It is about trusting that you are not the things that happened to you. It is about releasing the past at whatever speed you can. Even if it can only be measured in nanos.
Having PTSD is feeling like everything from yesterday is involved in today and making it though anyway. It is about being courageous and remembering to breathe.
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.
One of the things that I have found out about myself over the years is that I bought the lie. What I mean is that I heard over and over again from my abuser that I was not good enough. That I was of little value. And I bought that lie hook line and sinker. The most important part of what I just said is that it was in fact a lie.
I can trace most of my anxiety and fears to that lie. That I am not good enough and therefore not worthy of good things. It has taken me a long time but I have finally figured out that I am so very much worthy of every good thing. Not only that, but I am more than capable of doing just about anything. (I am saying this as though it is a fact. But this is something I am working on everyday, all day.) I have anxiety attacks that could register on a Richter scale about this. I cannot even begin to count how many times it takes me to do something just because I am afraid that I am not good enough.
I now have within my hands a time tested (last few months, by me) weapon against the panic, anxiety, and apathy that stops me in my tracks. It is gratitude. After watching TED talks and reading Brene Brown’s words on gratitude I have begun to embrace it. When I feel overwhelmed by the panic and the anxiety I stop and look at what I have accomplished. Then I am grateful for those accomplishments those steps toward success. Following that I am grateful for the other things that I have in my life. Then I am grateful for the opportunity or whatever it is that is before me. And I think about the gratitude that I have and all the great blessings and opportunities that are in my life until I have peace.
This has also involved being grateful for the times I have failed or not lived up to my own expectations. Allowing myself to fail and then being grateful for what I have learned from that experience. This has not been nor is it easy for me. I struggle daily with feelings of self-worth. But, I have also found that I am not alone. And that helps me more than anything else. I am not alone in feeling as though I cannot do something, that I have no business trying, and that I will likely fail. The thing is that at least 7 out of 10 times I do make it work. And that can be 100% if I think about the failures as learning experiences and not failures.
All this is a work in progress for me. Something that will more than likely always be a work in progress. And I am OK with that. Writing a blog was one of those things I put off forever. What if no one reads it? What if I say the wrong thing? What if …. And yet I am writing. I am writing about things that I am learning about in how to heal myself. And I am putting it out there right or wrong. And I am grateful for the opportunity to do that one thing.
Being in a frame of mind of gratitude has not kept the anxiety away all the time. Because I have to actually think about gratitude. But the gratitude helps to put it into perspective the times when I am panicking. And this enables me to find something good to not be panicking about at that moment. It gives me just the window of opportunity I need to climb back from the edge and do something amazing. Something that is amazing because I could not have done it two minutes before. And I am grateful for that.
Look on TED.com for talks about gratitude,and other people that are overcoming obstacles in their paths.