Michelle over at Heal My PTSD runs a program to, you know, do stuff like heal PTSD. I could follow the instructions for the program, but that sounds too sensible. Better to do what I always do when I have new electronic equipment or some IKEA furniture: get all the pieces out of the cartons and arrange them all over the floor; pull out the instruction booklet; open it. Then go make a cup of tea and have a cigarette. 😉
Seriously, there’s a lot in Michelle’s blog that speaks to me. Things like healing being about “conquering the past and creating the future”, being good to ourselves, accepting ourselves, being patient and accepting the roller coaster…. sound familiar?
Michelle has an exercise called “constructing a post trauma identity” which asks you to:
- Imagine yourself without trauma – Who might you have been without your traumatic experience?
- Imagine yourself without PTSD – What could or would you do or have done if PTSD didn’t get in the way?
- Identify traits and characteristics you would like to possess – What kind of person would you like to be if trauma and PTSD were stripped away?
- Identify and develop goals to move you forward – What activities can you engage in that will evolve you toward the person you imagine?
Imagining myself without trauma is just not possible for me. The “trauma” has been in my life for as long as I can remember. It caused me not to develop in the way I would have otherwise, so I can’t imagine myself without it. I don’t know who I am without it – then, or now.
I can imagine myself without the PTSD; without all the little things I thought were just idiosyncrasies or “weirdness” on my part, but which I now know are symptoms of something bigger. Things like hitting the roof whenever I hear a loud noise, or when someone touches me unexpectedly. Or like being unable to accept anything nice someone might say about me. Or believing that people aren’t all, in some way, laughing at me or out to get me. Or believing that I’m not inherently bad and people only hang around with me out of pity. Or weirding out with odd flashbacks in my head at the strangest of times.
Hard to imagine these things gone, but I’m starting to believe they can be. For example, most weeks I no longer shake uncontrollably (like a 7.0 earthquake!) in my therapist’s office. And since I moved into my new house, I haven’t had to check the doors and windows multiple times before going to bed. And I don’t rush to the window to see who’s coming to get me every time I hear a noise. And even when I’m triggered, my “messy” state seems to be shorter than it was, and I’m more able to at least know that it will pass, even if I can’t actively remember what to do to make it so. These things tell me there is life without PTSD, even if I’m still not quite sure what replaces it.
As for traits and characteristics I’d like to possess, if I close my eyes I can imagine:
- Being confident and happy in who I am – mentally, physically, spiritually – in every way you can think of
- Not being afraid when I walk into a room full of strangers
- Having a balanced life in which I pursue a range of activities – for work and play – all of which make me happy, and which don’t strike me down in terror at the mere thought of them
- Not being scared to go out at night and not worrying endlessly about what I’ll wear or how much people laugh at me or … you know the story
- Not being too scared to stand up for myself
- Being able to look after myself (properly) and not feel guilty
- Being emotionally healthy
- Being kind and compassionate and caring, and able to demonstrate that towards myself as well as share it with those around me
Gosh, with my eyes closed, I even live in hope of getting to a place where I can contemplate having a relationship. That’s weird and hard to say, but true. I’m not sure I can imagine a place where that will actually happen, but I try not to dismiss it. My therapist reminds me sometimes of all the things I said I’d “never” do, but have gone ahead and done anyway. Part of me hopes the relationship thing is in the same category.
As for goals that might get me to these places … I’m not really sure what they are. When I do know what they are, they strike terror into me. It all feels like a vicious circle at the moment, but that’s something to work towards, I guess.
Some other things led me to this point in my thinking, too. One was reading Irvin Yalom, noted psychotherapist and writer, and how he’d point clients to an awareness of their own impending deaths. Draw me a timeline, he’d say: Where are you now in this line that represents your life from birth to death? What are your regrets for the last 10 years? How can we ensure that you won’t have those regrets 10 years from now? Good questions.
Another was an email newsletter I subscribe to at work in which the author described the horror of losing people close to her this year, and asked the all important question: if it was all to end tomorrow, did I truly live my life? No, I haven’t.
The other thing I’ve been reading is a book my therapist recommended. It’s an Australian book (woohoo!) called Change Your Thinking. It’s very CBT, but full of really easy, neat ways to, ummm, change your thinking. LOL.
The last sections of the book (again not following the usual order of things) talk about attaining happiness, balance in life, etc. I found it helpful a little while ago when I was being dragged under by the quicksand of my depression (here and the follow up here). I also found it helpful yesterday when the darkness of the pit threatened to overwhelm me again.
But I digress. The point of this is to say that there’s a scarily helpful section at the back of the book that asks you to assess how balanced your lifestyle is in five key domains: work/daily activities; health; mind; leisure; and social support. The first time I browsed this list I was scared half to death. I realised very quickly that my life isn’t balanced at all. For a Libran like me, that’s a DISASTER. Needless to say that I’ve been too scared to go back to the list, but I will.