Stress Sensitivity and PTSD

Hi peeps, it’s a rare and special time when I get to blog these days, though I think of it (and you) often. Things are going quite well over here. Life continues to be almost completely mad, but somehow I’m mostly holding it together. I’m continuing to juggle the WT and the PNT, and I’m learning heaps, especially from the PNT who’s approach is completely different.

One thing I’ve noticed, particularly in the last week, is that my stress tolerance is much lower than it used to be. Apparently stress sensitivity is relatively common among those of us with PTSD. That’s kind of a no brainer, but isn’t something I’d really thought about or consciously (mindfully) experienced before.

My workload and the never ending pressure at work has been increasing exponentially over the last few weeks. Last week it hit the point where I couldn’t even tackle anything. I was completely paralysed. My to do list is so long all I could do was just stare at it. I’m not sure what caused this. I guess it was fear. Of what, exactly, I’m not sure. Not getting things done? Not getting them done on time? Getting into trouble? Oh, and then there was the presentation I had to give at a client training day last Friday. Ugh. Have I mentioned I have a pathological fear of public speaking? Well, I have a pathological fear of public speaking. 😉

Seriously, that alone was enough to tip my stress from ‘just about managing’ to completely paralysed… and, along came all my old “friends” – my PTSD symptoms. I was a triggery mess, flash backing all over the place, having nightmares and dissociating like crazy. 😦 I haven’t been like that for a while, so it was a bit of a shock to the system, yet strangely familiar.

It made me realise a couple of things I thought might be important (the PNT said they’re really important). One: my baseline isn’t as highly strung as it used to be. I used to be stressed like that all the time. And I mean: All. The. Time. I didn’t even know I was like that, but I was. I was a jittery, heart pounding crazy woman; literally running on cortisol and quickly spiralling out of control. Apparently I’m more relaxed now than I used to be. 🙂

The second thing I realised was that not only am I not like that anymore, but I also don’t want to be like that any more. I much prefer it when I’m NOT feeling so stressed. Who would have thought? 🙂

So what do I do with this information? I’m not sure. It’s obviously important. In a few ways, actually. First, it’s important that I’ve realised these things. And (possibly more) important that I even noticed them. Probably shows I’m not as out of it as I used to be a degree of mindfulness. Or something. Second, it seems important in a ‘how I want to live my life’ kinda way, although it’s really all too new for me to understand what that means, or what that looks like in practice, and how I keep it that way. Definite progress on both fronts, I’d say. 🙂

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A new start?

I’m sitting at my desk, in my new study, relishing some time to catch up on the blogosphere. I moved house, with Mum, just over ten days ago. While physically it’s still chaos (we are drowning in a sea of boxes, from her house and mine!), I am enjoying having made the move. I now have a bedroom AND a study to call my very own. Somewhere I can escape and have some ‘me time’ – and (with a bit of luck) blog time 🙂 I’ve been putting quite a bit of effort into setting up my study – I’ve painted the walls, put up a whole wall of bookcases, and ordered my new ‘reading on a Sunday afternoon’ armchair. It’s my retreat; my escape from the world – and from Mum and her foul comments when needed. I can see a little bit of the garden – the hydrangeas are battling winter, but the tulip tree is flowering beautifully, and today the sky is bright blue – a reminder that winter can sometimes be beautiful. 🙂

Life has been completely hectic for the last couple of months, but mostly I’ve coped well. The PNT is helping me get back in touch with myself; helping me become more mindful (not always successfully), and helping me learn some better ‘self-care’. Say what? I hear you utter. Crazy, I know…

I also consulted a natural therapist last week – she reminded me of a lot of the good things I’d somehow forgotten. The importance of nutrition, the importance of whole food, the evils of gluten… things I’d somehow let get lost in the hurly burly of caring for Mum. Actually, if I’m honest, much of this got lost before Mum got sick. Somehow, in looking after my mental health, I’ve almost completely forgotten about my physical health! I’ve been eating much better since seeing the natural therapist – I can’t tell you how good that feels! Not that my diet was overly bad beforehand, but I’d got trapped into eating food that Mum likes to eat and which I don’t like. Or do like but aren’t at all good for me. It feels so good to be eating ‘me’ food again. And by that I mean it feels good physically, not just emotionally; in fact not even emotionally really, as I’m not even gloating in some faux feeling of virtuosity. It just feels good physically to put good food in my stomach. Nurturing and grounding in a whole other way. 🙂

I have plans to get back to yoga, and may be start meditation, but for now they are stuck in the procrastinating box. I’m not sure why, they just are. I’m trying not to beat myself up about that. It will come; when I’m ready it will come.

I’m a little puzzled at how much of myself I’d forgotten, or left behind, during the last couple of years of therapy. More fodder for the PNT, I suspect. I’ve been reminded over the last couple of weeks that when you do things that align with your ‘inner self’, it feels good. Not just good or even great, but life-giving and energising as well. (Though clearly I’m still struggling a bit with ‘feeling words’ LOL)

Emotions 101

I’ve been continuing to work with my new therapist on emotional “stuff”. I’m frequently dumbstruck in our sessions when she asks how I’m feeling and I can’t find the words, or when she asks me what a particular feeling is like and what it means to me and I don’t know.

This week we talked about empathy.

In the course of our discussion I learned that empathy isn’t when you tell someone about events in your life (like your mother having cancer) and they ignore you so they can talk about something else. And I learned that empathy isn’t when a friend launches into hysterics about how your stuff makes them feel. I’m still not sure what empathy actually is, though.

Honestly, I know I’m not dumb, but I certainly feel it during these sessions. 😦

In better news I went to a concert this week. Amazing singers. Perfect pitch, beautiful harmonies, and magical music. Here’s one of the pieces they sang (although some of the group members have changed since this was recorded). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

Manning up

I started to write this post about how I’d stepped up (or “manned up”) this week in coming clean with my therapist. And then I realised that I’d actually “manned up” in a few situations, so thought I’d give myself a big bloggy pat on the back. 🙂

  1. I finally came clean with my therapist. Funny, I had avoided this in the session after my post, and by the time the next session (or the one after) rolled around, I felt much more able to tackle it. So much so that I barely squirmed or cried or anything – just had a “normal” (at least “semi-normal”) discussion with her about it. I’ve waxed lyrical on the benefits of talking to one’s therapist so many times in the blogosphere. Seems that sometimes there’s benefit in waiting, and not blurting.
  2. I reported a guy at work for giving me a work nerd stick that contained p0rn0graphic material. It was gross and freaked me out … It came on the back of the bad trigger at work, so possibly I was more sensitive than I ordinarily would have been, but seriously people, pornography at work? Just. Not. Appropriate… EVER.
  3. I’ve been feeling lazy and lardy and awful lately. For months actually. And then my BFF online pointed out that I used to go to the gym regularly, and it seemed to help with all the body tension. She’s right. What she said triggered a massive “a-ha!” moment in my brain, so I went to check out a new gym after work yesterday. Spur of the moment appointment to check out the gym, and a spur of the moment decision to sign up. I felt really motivated while I was there, so I went again this morning. It really brought my focus back to my body, and made me aware of all the places I’m carrying a ridiculous amount of tension. Of course it also made me aware of how much condition I’ve lost, but I’m hoping this will ease as I get back into a fitness regime, and (hopefully) gain some of my fitness back. Thanks BFF! 🙂

I also bombed my therapist today (as in ‘last minute bomb’ or LMB – kinda love it when we get to throw them occasionally) – “Why do you always ask the hard questions at the very end?” she asked. Ha ha! I asked her about my intense fear of abandonment and can she talk to me more in “intellectual terms” about it. I’m desperate to understand it, though I do fear it’s a bit like therapy in this regard – that if I stop intellectualising and just go with it, I’ll start to get better. Of course, I’m not sure what the “it” is in this situation. I guess that will be top of the agenda for next week…

Once living in fear

It seems like ages since I was able to blog regularly. I feel bad about that, though I know I shouldn’t. Like has gone into crazy mode, and mostly I’m going day to day dealing with things. On one hand it feels like I’m completely unstable; on the other, I know I’m not, and I’m actually coping well with what are incredibly difficult life events, if almost crippled with exhaustion. I know I’m also continuing to heal, as I was reminded last night.

Just as I crawled into bed, shortly after midnight, I heard my door bell ring. Of course, being so late, I panicked. Heart thumping, palm sweating, brain frying panic. I lay in bed, totally frozen. I was scared almost to death about who was at the door, and the bad things they had come to do. I watched the clock tick over* and waited, everything on high alert, convinced someone would break in. I literally couldn’t move.

At some stage I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up this morning, well, I actually woke and no evil had taken me in the night. Of course, the first thing I did was check the front door – no one there, no one sleeping on my porch, nothing. Strange.

And then I remembered how many nights I’ve felt that panic before. How often, over the years, I slept with knives under my pillow, or scissors under the blankets. How often I sat under the window or by the front door, waiting for the bad men to come.

They never did.

And so, while I panicked (who wouldn’t panic that when their doorbell rings so late?), I also remembered that I’ve come a long way. It’s been a loooong time since I slept with knives or stayed awake all night to make sure nothing bad happened.

And that, my friends, as they say, is progress. 🙂

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* It’s a digital clock. It doesn’t tick. But what do we say now about digital clocks? Do they flip? Swoosh? What is it we say now that analogue barely exists? What will little kids say in years to come?  

A few bags and a suitcase

Mum and I went to her house last week to start sorting through my father’s belongings. I’ve been looking forward to this for years – throwing away all his old, stinky clothes, and the few other possessions he had. I thought it would be cathartic – another nail in his coffin, so to speak, and another way to exile him from my life. It was, although sadly the catharsis was lessened because my mother had already thrown away the worst of his sh*t when he went into the nursing home.

Thanks to the Wonder Therapist I was prepared for this to also be triggering. Mostly it wasn’t, although there were a couple of things that threw me for a minute – things like his old bucket hats (which reminded me of his foul moods), the smell of his wardrobe (and of him) and some skanky old toiletries, like shaving gear. Thankfully the worst of the triggers – his dirty, stinky fishing gear – had already gone, so I didn’t need to deal with that.

Strangely I kept a couple of things. Yea, I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy, right? It wasn’t anything triggering. Nothing that really even reminds me of him, just things I like. A pale blue shirt I bought in France, a couple of old cravats I never saw him wear (they’re in beautiful old vintage fabrics), and an old hair brush I’m not sure he never used (also vintage, with a fleur-de-lis pattern on the handle).

This whole process of sorting through his cr*p affected me more than I thought it would. Throwing away his eye glasses, realising he would never need them again, made me a bit sad – not for my father, but for what’s left of a person’s life in the end: a few garbage bags and a suitcase filled with old clothes to go to charity. I don’t know why I find this sad, but I do. Somehow it seems that 91 years of life – nearly 92 – should amount to more than that. The Wonder Therapist says it’s not uncommon to start thinking about this – about the meaning of life, our legacy, and what it all means. (F***ed if I know, that’s for sure.)

It’s amazing how exhausting this whole process was – even though I’m not saddened in the usual way, I’m still exhausted.

In which I break the power of flashbacks

I’ve been having a few flashbacks since my father died. Nothing too bad; nothing that makes me freak out. Just intrusive little things that put me off kilter for a few minutes (or linger annoyingly for a few hours). But none of the usual dissociative wigging out – or only momentarily.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Mostly they’re flashbacks of horrible things he did to Mum and I, and the feelings of fear I felt then (and now), and of being small and vulnerable. Things like the times he was being violent, usually drunk, and Mum would sleep in my room, usually barricading us in with my chest of drawers. He’d try to break in, but never succeeded. Thankfully, god knows what would have happened if he did.

Or the time we were on holidays visiting family in the country – Dad was, as usual, in a foul mood and as Mum started to get in the car he drove off – leaving her half in, half out of the car, dragging a little bit as he took off, and yelling at her about how “stupid” she was. I get this knot in the pit of my stomach whenever I think about these things.

*** END OF TRIGGER WARNING ***

I was talking to the Wonder Therapist about this today. She said this isn’t uncommon following the death of an abuser. She suggested I should just tell her when this happens, and just blurt out the flashback. Really? Yea, really. I wasn’t sure if I could do this – the same old feelings of shame and embarrassment are still there, even after all this time. But I did do it, and you know what? Just telling her about the flashbacks took all the power out of them. Suddenly they were just memories – yucky memories, and still intrusive – but not as scary as they were. Amazing. I felt lighter and more powerful. I no longer felt like a victim, but a survivor. 🙂

I guess that’s why they call her the Wonder Therapist after all. 😉