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. 🙂

A hard week

You know, I think I’ve just had one of the hardest weeks of my life. I’m more exhausted than exhausted can be. And I’m sick – still or again, I’m not sure which. I’ve been at my mother’s house with her, cleaning, tidying, sorting, getting ready to put her house on the market. Much of my time there disappeared in a dissociative haze, and I’m still not sure I’m really “back”. Whatever went on, I felt the familiar claws of depression latching onto me. 😦

For the first few days I had to keep reminding myself that my father wasn’t there and that wasn’t going to say something nasty. I have to admit this was a giant head f**k. I know he’s dead, but everything around me was just the same as it was when he was alive – his chair there by the TV, his other chair out on the verandah. I kept expecting him to ark up, complain, say something horrible, be nasty. He didn’t, thankfully.

My mother and I spent some time going through her things – working out what she wanted to keep, what she didn’t, etc. Part of this was hard – learning about things that had meaning for her, or had been passed down through the family. Although sometimes it was just downright funny, like when she *finally* threw away the half-done macramé projects that belonged to my grandmother. The one who died 31 years ago!!!!!

Despite the odd funny moment, Mum again proved that she’s an emotional cripple. Not only did she deny my needs the entire time we were there, but also several times invalidated what I was feeling. Just as an example, the weather was unbearably hot for much of the week. I don’t cope well in the heat. I wilt quickly and just want to curl in a ball and sleep. Mum just told me to “get used to it”. If I’d had some wits about me, I would have said, “No, Mum, I won’t get used to it, or get over it. I’m 41 years old. I’ve never liked the heat and I’m not about to start. You don’t like the cold – I don’t ask you to get used to it. It’s how I am. YOU get used to it.”

Most of her behavior was the same across the week. Instead of saying she was tired, or finding it difficult, or whatever, she just took it out on me in some sarcastic, acid-tongued way. I knew it was about her, but it still threw me back into the cesspit of negativity and criticism, and needless to say pretty much did my head in. I quickly felt myself slipping to the edge of the abyss.

On top of that was all the physical work – gardening (in the heat), painting (in the wee small hours to miss the heat), lugging rubbish to the tip, and second hand goods to charity. Of course my mother’s still not up to very much physically, so I did most of the heavy work. I have no idea how I did it – except by disconnecting myself, physically and emotionally. Not healthy, I know, and kind of scary to think how quickly and easily I slipped backwards. I feel like I’ll always be skirting the edge like this. It feels completely pointless. I know that’s not good, but I’m having trouble stopping.

I’m coming back, now that I’m home, but slowly. The darkness is still there, and the darkest of dark thoughts still appealing. I’m hoping a weekend of nothing much will help. I’m due to go back to work next week, and it’s just about the last thing I feel like doing. I’m wrecked.

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…

Struggle City

I found myself on the Trigger Train the other day and ended up in Struggle City again. It’s been a while since I went there – I’d almost forgotten what it’s like. As an online friend said, it’s like all the coping skills I’ve gained just went flying out the window. This (extremely long) blog post is my attempt to download what happened, and figure out where I went wrong.

Anyway, last week I was at work and had to look at some DVDs related to sexual assault/abuse for something I’m doing. The company I work for has done some work in this area, and I was looking at what we’d done. “Uh oh,” I hear you say. Yea, I should have seen those neon warnings flashing as well. I’d been doing so well; I thought I was strong enough. Apparently not. The DVDs show interviews with victim/survivors and within about a minute I’d lost it. Tears streaming down my face, shaking like a leaf, and frozen to the chair. I couldn’t even explain it. It was like the reaction came from something deep and untouched inside. It’s the second time I’ve frozen in a short time, and that in itself freaked me out. I mean, what if I’d really needed to escape, but couldn’t?

Once I’d thawed enough to move, I g00gled ways to cope with PTSD triggers, remembered the coping mechanisms, breathed, then went for a walk in the gardens near my office. That helped; or helped enough for me to do some work, even if I was pretty wiggy and ineffectual for the rest of the day.

I also texted my therapist, who has always encouraged me to do that if I need help.  She was tied up, but suggested I contact the Back Up Therapist – another little technique of hers that has entered the fray recently. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and at that stage, thought I was ok.

I was still wiggy when I got home, and starting to feel a bit rejected by the Wonder Therapist. I had a long chat with one of my besties online. She did a great job of cheering me up and making me laugh, connecting me back to the real world. (If you’re reading, thank you!) I ate some dinner and watched something light on TV, feeling good that I’d been about to deal with a pretty awful day.

The next morning I felt pretty flat. I had to drive to my mother’s for the second time in a week, to pick up some stuff for her (she’s still in hospital) and to deal with her cat. She’s a lovely cat – at least to look at. She’s got a pretty little face and long silvery hair that unfortunately has become quite matted in Mum’s absence. The neighbours are doing a great job of feeding her, but not such a great job with the brushing. It’s hardly surprising – the cat practically takes your arm off if you try to brush her; even goes for Mum’s jugular sometimes, the little minx.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I’d spent half the week ringing vets and catteries trying to find a reliable groomer. Finally found one and arranged to drop the cat off yesterday morning.

Apparently the adult part of me was with it enough to drive, though the whole way there some other part of me (Little Kid Me?) was upset, in tears, and cowering in the corner.

The cat groomer is lovely. She’s kind of eccentric, but very warm and gentle. I warmed to her almost instantly.  She certainly has a special something, because within about half an hour, Mum’s vicious little princess was crooning sweetly and looking quite at home (having yowled and hissed at me most of the way there). The Cat Lady said she couldn’t do the grooming in a couple of hours, and suggested I leave the cat with her for a week or two – which I did. I wouldn’t ordinarily just leave a cat anywhere, but I felt really comfortable with her. She obviously loves animals – has a few old strays of her own, a beautiful tank of marine fish (which she hand feeds), and is surrounded by a kind of Cat Disneyland, which even I wanted to play in!

I felt fine while I was with the Cat Lady, though once I hit the road, the wigginess started up again. I was freaking out about the sense that there were two of me – a Grown Up Me dealing with all the “practicalities” of the day; and a Little Kid Me who couldn’t cope with the practicalities or the emotions of it all, and just wanted to sit in the corner and colour in (literally).

I texted my therapist again – she’s often working weekends, and I thought may be she could squeeze me in. She sent me what I interpreted as a terse message saying she was having a day off and I should contact the Back Up, who was available.

Of course, Little Kid Me instantly felt rejected and abandoned, and thought the Wonder Therapist hated us. (Yea, I know that isn’t necessarily very rational, but that’s what we thought.) I managed to hold it together enough to get home and to the hospital to visit Mum. Mum was in a foul mood – she’d had some unexpected heart trouble the previous night and been transferred to the cardiac unit for monitoring. Of course “monitoring” means they interrupt you every few minutes, day and night, to check your stats. Not only that, but the cardiac unit is a bit of a dump compared to her other ward – and the nursing staff pretty terrible. Needless to say she wasn’t in a very good mood.

When I mentioned about the cat groomer, Mum flipped. And when I mentioned that I’d left the cat there, she practically hit the roof. I couldn’t believe it. Once again I just froze. I didn’t cry – not in front of my mother, hell no – but Little Kid Me was certainly crying on the inside. I’d spent the whole day trying to help Mum, trying to do the right thing for her cat, and I just got in trouble for it. I knew I shouldn’t have told her, but after the heart trouble she’d wanted me to spend the day in the hospital with her, but I couldn’t because I had Cat Lady teed up, so I told her, and initially she was understanding… but not after the fact.

Eventually I escaped the hospital … still traumatised by my mother, and the text message from my therapist, and wondering what I’d done to make them both hate me. I got home and burst into tears. I sent a text message to the Back Up Therapist, thinking at worst she would help short-circuit the hell inside; at best, she’d help me. I still haven’t heard back from her. So much for being available. And now Little Kid Me thinks she hates us too.

I have to say I felt pretty alone at that point, realising that there really is only me, that help isn’t there when you need it, blah blah blah. I decided I deserved some chocolate … and some more chocolate … and pretty soon found myself eating fries and ice cream and all sorts of crap … until I was sick. 😦 Clearly the healthier coping strategies had flown out the window after all.

I eventually got to sleep, with the help of some sleeping pills, and when I woke this morning, my first thought was “ugh, I don’t want to wake up. I don’t have to feel anything when I’m asleep.” I got through today’s hospital visit with the help of some more junk food to squash down my emotions around Mum. That worked, though it upset my tummy (probably a left over from last night) and now I have a massive headache 😦

And now I’m just exhausted. And scared to hell that my therapist won’t see me anymore. Scared that the Trigger Train will keep coming through for the rest of my life; that I will never be able to cope with it. But mostly scared my therapist will kick me to the curb and I’ll be left all alone, with no real way to deal with any of this.

Scary times make messy heads

Last week in the hospital I felt completely overwhelmed. I went in anxious but calm, convinced they would just give me some drugs and send me on my way. Before I knew it I was wheeled into the treatment area, surrounded by doctors and nurses talking to me, inserting canulas, giving me drugs, hooking up oxygen and other drugs, asking me questions and telling me they wanted to admit me. And on the sidelines I had the mother carping about car parking and how she’d get home. I was scared, but I didn’t realise it at the time – not until I was chatting to a dear friend the other day, who helped me see that something somewhere was triggered and it brought out all these scared young parts who were, understandably, overwhelmed.

Of course my paranoia and irrational thinking escalated to ridiculous levels, though I’m now trying not to beat myself up over that. I’m not sure if it was feeling so overwhelmed, or the drugs they gave me, or what, but I ended up in a bad head space. Very bad. It’s still not great, but certainly better – and much better now that I can see my reaction to the hospital and treatment as the scared weird little parts of me (rather than a freaked out, crazy, irrational, stupid adult part of me, if that makes sense).

We figured out, my friend and I, that what I need to get better at is soothing the young, scared parts when overwhelmed. I’m guessing this is partly a grounding exercise – remembering that I’m grown up now, I’m safe and that the hospital staff are there to help me. Of course, remembering to do this ‘in the moment’ is difficult, if not impossible sometimes. I’m not really sure where to begin, but perhaps it’s in reminding myself to ground and soothe when I’m not precariously on edge. Like when my mother says something to trigger, I can remind myself that I’m an adult and her reactions are her responsibility. Or when I start my new job this week, I can remind myself that I’ve done it before and can do it again. May be this is overly simplistic, but perhaps it might help in the harder times, too. I hope so. All suggestions welcome, of course. 😉

The trigger train

I visited my father in the nursing home this weekend. I won’t go on about how that place gives me the creeps, or how tedious it is listening to my father talk about himself without even asking my mother how her cancer treatment is going… *sigh*

What I will say is I was amazed to be almost struck by the trigger train again. It’s been a while since that train stopped at my station. It happened as I was leaving, and my father gave indications that he wanted me to kiss him good-bye. No way. Not on your life. Uh uh. Nope. The idea of touching him makes my skin crawl and makes me shudder. I left feeling like I needed a shower. Yuck.

I wish I didn’t feel like that. I wish I had the kind of relationship with a father where the idea of touching him wasn’t a signal for the trigger train to come on through. But I don’t. I never have had, and never will have. If I think about this too much it makes me sad – firstly that I never had such a father, and secondly, that my father gives me the creeps (even if my rational brain knows that’s ok). I’m hoping one day it won’t affect me.

What I am pleased about is that I saw the trigger train coming around the bend and headed it off at the pass, diverted it onto another track, so to speak. I could still feel the train going past, but was able to hold it together. I’m also pleased that the drive to my parents’ house is no longer filled with anxiety now that he’s in the nursing home. 🙂

My father’s health is declining. Again. I’ve written on this topic more times than I care to think about. I can’t help thinking, “is this is?” though I feel like I’m jinxing myself for saying that. It’s as David once said: “I wish he’d just get it the hell over with.” Yep, me too.

Work puzzles

I’ve nearly been in my new job three months. Hard to believe, I know. I’m still enjoying it, which is good news. Two things puzzle me, though.

The first is the triggery nature of the work. I never expected that. I should have, because some of it is so obviously triggering – stuff like child trafficking for s*xual exploitation. Yea, I know, I should have seen that coming. Doh.

Some of the other content is triggering for me as well, though in ways I can’t explain. This week, for example, I was at a seminar thingy and we were watching a video interview with a girl in a far off place. She’s only 12, this girl, yet head of her household, living in the most dire circumstances. Hideous.

Just when I wasn’t paying attention, the triggery thing crept up on me, and I found myself spacing out and fighting back tears. I was a space cadet for the rest of the day, really weirded out. To the extent that when I was in a meeting later that day, I thought I wasn’t there. I was looking at this person, larger than life, like on a movie screen, trying to concentrate on what she was saying. I have no idea why that happened, but I hate it when it does.

The second thing that’s puzzling me is my performance review yesterday. It was all good, so nothing to worry about there. What is puzzling me is what my boss said about me. Things like:*

  • That I’m smart, and pick things up quickly
  • That I have good insights and offer good contributions, and that I’m strategic when I do
  • That I’m clearly well skilled at what I do
  • That I’m a good communicator
  • That I’m a good problem solver
  • That I’m good at pulling together resources and figuring out how best to get things done
  • That I’ve built good relationships with people in my team, and beyond
  • That I focus on outcomes
  • That I get things done

All good things, I know that. But things I don’t recognise as me.

Coincidentally, many of these are things my therapist has said about me, too. Who they are both talking about is just beyond me, coz it sure ain’t “me”!?!?

In completely unrelated news … I found this today. It made me LOL

* I’ve put these things here just for my own reference, not so you’ll tell me I’m good or anything. Just needed to clarify that.