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.
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.
For my birthday I was given a beautiful new bird feeder by my husband. He hung it on a tree that very morning. We filled it and the birds have found it. As things go in the scheme of the world it was not that big of a deal. But for me the birds are how I meditate.
When I first started to meditate it was difficult. I had a hard time keeping the intrusive memories and thoughts from taking over and running the show. I would talk to some people and they would not believe me when I said this was an issue. Their response was along the lines that I must somehow be doing it wrong. I stopped trying to meditate. (I later found out that what I was experiencing was not uncommon in sever trauma sufferers.)
Then I found the birds. I watch them fly to the feeder. I observe the way they take turns. How some breeds are more communal in the way the eat and others have a specific order. I watch the bluejays balance so very carefully with their tails and wings to stay on the small ledge. And I breathe, empty my mind and relax. And my body, which never relaxes even when I am asleep I think, relaxes into the chair. Peaceful feelings roam about my mind and body as I watch the birds.
I also do what I call “treeing.” I stand outside near our stream and I imagine that I am a tree. I am sending roots down into the earth. I hear the water rushing by in the stream and imagine it pouring down over me and taking all the stress out through my deep roots. To safely take it away into the earth. Once when I was having a particularly hard day my daughters and daughter in law came and stood with me and we joined hands and let the water pour over us in our minds. The joining of hands with such strong women was as soothing as the imagined water.
I have found that any way I can relax and allow my breathing to calm and the world around me to slow and allow me peace is perfect meditation for me. I would like, someday, to pursue meditation is a different form. But for now as with all things what works is what works.
When I get really depressed I am a lump. That is it. I don’t go anywhere. I don’t do anything. But when I am panicked or anxiety or just plain stressed. I bake. A lot. There was a time about, well a long time ago, that I baked four different coffee cakes, cookies and bread. All in the same day. There was a cinnamon coffee cake, a chocolate coffee cake, apple coffee cake and I can’t remember the other one. Not to mention the chocolate chip cookies. Then the kids came home from school. Surprise! One of the children asked what could they do to keep me this stressed so I would always bake so much. Humor. It keeps things going.
We try to use humor in this house in order to cope with all the hiccups having someone with ptsd and depression can bring into our lives. Which means that sometimes they are subjected to horrible things like a Godzilla film fest and popcorn. (The good kind, popped in a pan and then smothered with real butter and salt). Or other random behaviors that for kids mean fun. I didn’t have much time to be a kid. I am making up for it now.
Stress or bad days dealing with crap from the past are also taken care of by what I call “Big Brother” movies. This is not a reference to 1984 but to the big brother that would step in and kick the bad guys butt that was bothering you, that kind of big brother. I don’t watch R movies. I have had way too much intensity in my life already. So I tend to stick to the PG13 versions. But some of my favorites are movies with Bruce Willis. Also Godzilla. I watched those a lot as a kid and they have great memories. If Tokyo only built their streets about a quarter of a mile wide they would not have to rebuild so much. Just a thought. One of my fall backs at the moment is Battleship. Do not ask why. I could not tell you. It just is. I was sitting on my bed with a bag of M&Ms and my computer. My daughter walks in and looks to see what I am watching. I was watching Battleship. “Hard day?” She is nothing if not perceptive. I respond with “Why do you ask?” That gets me raised eyebrows. Next thing i know I have shoved over and she is sharing my M&Ms and watching with me. She is then followed by two more of her siblings. Good thing we are a close family.
There are all sorts of things we do to find a release for stress. Mine happen to be family friendly. But finding ways to feel safe and at peace are important for me. So in honor of November be a month for being ‘Thankful’ I will say that I am thankful for being able to bake and for all the movies and popcorn I have shared with my children and husband over the years as they support me through all this. Because without them i would have to eat all those cookies. And some movies are best with others. Except when they hog the popcorn.