Being in your body

The PNT wants me to get back in my body. Some days I’m not even sure I understand what she means. Truth be told, I’ve lived an almost entirely ‘cerebral existence’ as another blogger called it* for just about as long as I can remember.

I think I looked like a deer in the headlights the day she first asked me how it felt to feel sad.

PNT: “Tell me, how does it feel when you feel sad?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

PNT: “You know, how does it feel? In your body?”

Me: *speechless*

She’s been getting me to try a mindfulness technique called “body scanning”. Occasionally I can do it, but most times I run out of energy around my ankles… or even earlier, like my feet, because I can’t get a good ‘reading’ on them. I don’t know how they should feel; let alone how they do feel. And this despite several years of yoga practice *eye rolling* (although admittedly I haven’t done any real yoga since before this blog was born; since things fell apart; or even before… which is possibly another reason they fell apart in the first place, but I’m sure that’s another topic for another day).

This has all come to the fore in recent weeks because I’ve been suffering an unknown abdominal complaint that has kept me away from work, and from life. So far I’ve had numerous tests, and the usual gynecological and gastrointestinal suspects investigated and have come up with nothing. Nothing. That’s n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Except for a bowel disease that I’ll need to pay some attention to at some point, but that apparently isn’t related to my current pain.

So I’m left feeling like I must be making it all up; like it was all in my head to begin with. Not a good feeling, I can tell you. It triggers all that old stuff about being hopeless and a failure and a malingerer who will never be good at anything and … you get the drift. Now, here’s where I get confused, because the PNT says pain is real. REAL, she says. It’s our bodies telling us something isn’t right. So, umm, there’s pain, and my body saying something’s wrong but medical tests saying there’s nothing wrong with me.

Say what? You’re confused? Yea, me too. :S

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In other news I’ve been reading far more than I’ve been writing lately. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but if you want to see what I’m reading, you can follow me on Twitter here, or a round-up of my tweets/twusings (?) on Kerro’s Kronicles here.

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* Sorry, I can’t remember who you are, but I remember thinking it was a great phrase, and a great blog post.

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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. 🙂

Talking about talking

Wow, starting with a new therapist is harder than I thought. I’d forgotten about all the “ickiness” that comes up; the squirming and the shutting down. I’m three or four months in with PNT and am just realising that all that ickiness doesn’t go away. I’ve caught myself a couple of times with her – almost saying something and then someone or something inside stopping me. The fact that I notice this and recognise it is probably a good thing – may be there is some progress, after all? It seems I still have trust issues, though. I’m sure that’s not really surprising – in fact, any one of you could have told me that! It did take me a little by surprise, though. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to sit huddled in the chair, studying the carpet or the paintwork in depth, wishing the floor would open up or the clock would tick over and your hour would be up. Uh huh, that’s still with me.

The PNT is almost nauseatingly keen on talking about all this. I foolishly sent her an email before today’s session saying I’d like to “talk about the talking”. Silly me! Well, silly because she’s onto me like a rabid dog and doesn’t let me get away with my usual avoidance tactics LOL. But also not silly because it helped me clarify that this is fundamentally about trust, and the fear that she’ll hurt me. Irrational fear, of course, because she can’t really do any such thing.

She prompted me to think about how I resolved this with the WT. I’ve found it hard to remember, but of course, I did have trust issues with the WT! The solution? Time, of course, to get to know her (and her me) – her approach, her likely reactions (or non-reactions), her (therapeutic) heart. And a spoonful of sugar, by which I mean a giant – and I mean GIANT – leap of faith. I remember the first time I realised I’d have to put my faith in the WT, how hard that was. How it felt like inching towards the edge of a cliff and then stepping off, not being at all sure what was over the edge, if I’d need a parachute, or if I’d have one. Please tell me I don’t need to do that again??? If you believe this guy, then yea, I do need to do that again. Sigh.

Of course trust, in my view, needs to be earned. I’m not sure what the PNT has done  to earn my trust, if anything. Of course she gets a level of trust and respect by being another human being, with a heart. And she ticks all the basic boxes – she’s reliable, maintains confidentiality, etc – but I need something more than that. I don’t know what, but may be I do need something from her. I remember the early days with the WT – she made an effort, it seemed, to get me to trust her. Things like  going the “extra mile” with appointment times, out of session contact, etc. And of course there was all that weirdness about her not thinking I was a “freak” – that probably engendered some trust. I’ve not had that same experience with the PNT – perhaps because I’m still seeing the WT, so there’s been no real reason to trust her?

And what am I afraid of? Sure, being judged, even though rationally I know she won’t really judge. Feeling like a failure. Feeling not good enough. (Who said there’d been progress? Phooey!) Better to just keep quiet, right? 😉

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. 🙂

So, how does that make you feeeeeeel?

Haven’t we all dreaded hearing this from our therapists? And haven’t we all heard this at least once? She’s on to me, my PNT (less P these days than she is NT or T#2).

I was mildly hysterical when I saw her yesterday (over a triggering issue I’m not going into, sorry). She asked me to think about/take note of how I feel (physically, emotionally) when I’m having a “good” day, and how I feel when I’m not. She’s doing a lot of work with me on my emotions (ugh.) and on being “in my body” (double ugh. Though good for me, I know that.) So, here goes.

On a “good” day…

  • On a good day I’m fully conscious. Mindful of things around me.
  • I’m aware of my emotions. I can see, name and even feel their impact on me. I can even feel some of them come (and go).
  • I can do that “self-talk” thing – you know, keeping myself upbeat, talking myself around any irrational thoughts that might come my way.
  • I can see my progress over the last three years in therapy.

I know that’s a teeny weeny list for the “good” days. There haven’t been many of those lately, so I’ll keep this as a work in progress.

On a not-good day…

  • I’m emotional. Tears spring forth at the drop of a hat. Sometimes I get really pissy, able to tear apart tall building with a single rrrrrip. Or tear someone a new orifice, if you use that expression where you live.
  • I get a great lump in my throat before the tears leak out. Apparently this is common, but not everyone get’s this, which I didn’t realize.
  • Sometimes I hold my breath… or, rather, I find it physically difficult to breathe out. I think because of the lump in my throat, but I’m not really sure.
  • Often I bite the inside of my cheek to try to stop the tears, which generally hurts, but not as much as the tears themselves (which is kind of the whole point). Sometimes my cheek bleeds, but I’m not usually aware of that until afterwards.
  • I get tense around my neck and the tops of my shoulders. My jaw is often clenched, too.
  • I want to lie in the foetal position on the floor, or crawl under the doona and stay there all day. Alone.
  • That’s another thing – I don’t want to be around other people, and sometimes I struggle to get out of the house and do the things I need to do (like go to work).
  • I can’t bear noise. It feels like a physical assault. When I was little I used to vomit whenever there was unexpected loud noise. (I’m sure my mother was delighted by this – NOT!)
  • Sometimes I think about hurting myself – putting my hand through the window, cutting myself, or stabbing my leg with the screwdriver. (Yea, not pretty, I know.)
  • Afterwards, I’m completely and utterly shattered. Exhausted. My head hurts from crying (or from dehydration, or both). I get a tension headache around the top of my head, too. My neck and shoulders hurt. And the inside of my cheek generally hurts, too (not surprisingly). And if I’ve really been going for it, my eyes are puffy and feel like p*ss holes in the snow.

Wow, this has been difficult. I never realized how out of touch with my body I was (though I suspect T#2 knows!). No doubt this will be a work in progress, so stay tuned 😉

I’m faulty

I’m not really, I know that. But I did grow up believing it. I also grew up in an environment where expressing any sort of emotion just wasn’t acceptable. Not for anyone except my father, who of course, as “Master” and “Ruler” of his domain, could do and say and express anything he wanted to, irrespective of the impact on other people. But with my mother also in that environment, telling me to “be strong” in circumstances that only the hardest of souls could be strong in, I came away believing that feelings are wrong; that if I have feelings, then I’m somehow faulty. As if all those other reasons to feel faulty weren’t enough, there’s this as well. Sigh.

The PNT spoke about this in my second session this week. About how having feelings isn’t actually “faulty”, but part of being human. An important part of being human. Go figure?!?

I have to say I’m not enjoying my sessions with PNT, though I am learning a lot and because of that I’ll keep going to see her. (The situation with the Wonder Therapist and potentially having two therapists is as yet unresolved. I’m playing ostrich on that one LOL) Anyway, PNT spent quite a lot of time trying to get me to just sit with my feelings, and especially to get in touch with the anxiety I was feeling. I didn’t like that one little bit. By the end of the session I wanted to run away and get completely drunk, though I also understood why that was, perhaps with a degree of clarity I’ve not had before.

Of course, getting drunk, taking drugs, eating, cutting or doing any one of a zillion other things is just about trying to avoid feeling that anxiety. But you know that already. Apparently I am the one who’s slow on the uptake here 😉 And who wouldn’t want to avoid it? It’s awful!!

When I wasn’t dissociating or trying to deflect her attention with vaguely humorous comments, I did feel the anxiety. It’s hideous. Why would I want to feel that?  Apparently because having feelings is normal, and unless you feel them, you can’t learn to manage them. Hmph.

But enough about that for today. I also want to share a couple of things with you. First there’s this scarily accurate poem about a fear of rejection over at Kellevision’s blog. Check it out. Amazing. It stopped me in my tracks.

There’s also this really awesome speaker on TED Women. What she says about being true to yourself or your body will let you down certainly resounded with me. Anyway, check it out. Really great stuff.

The link between emotions and adaptions

The struggle against my maladaptive side continues. And the maladaptive coping mechanisms continue to be my first port of call. Nothing serious, just there and seemingly more reachable than anything more helpful I may have learned in my time in therapy. These maladaptive coping mechanisms have been causing a lot of stress. The constant fight, the ugly thoughts… it’s distressing and upsetting and exhausting.

I saw the PNT for an additional session the other day, in a “crisis” you might say. It wasn’t really a crisis; just anxiety and panic about the maladaptive side, and some depression settling in around the edges.

I’m not even sure what we talked about, the PNT and me. It certainly wasn’t all these maladaptive coping mechanisms. We did talk about the anxiety, and about its sources, and then she got into a whole lot of family-related stuff that, at the time, didn’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes I think there’s more “madness” than “method” in her approach, though I seem to be learning stuff at the same time.

I realized afterwards what she was saying, though – that I probably come from a long line of people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions, so it’s hardly surprising that I don’t know how either.  Yep, she’s right there.  And that, as a child, I probably had to squish down all my emotions in order to survive. Yep, right again.

She didn’t say it, but I’m guessing it’s this business of not knowing how to deal with my emotions that brings the maladaptive side out. I probably knew that, but had forgotten. I’m seeing the PNT again this week, so will see what she has planned this time around. If nothing else my sessions with her make me curious about her process. 😉