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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Moving mountains

Why is it that depression and anxiety leave you feeling like the smallest things are like moving mountains?

As if life isn’t exhausting enough, just getting up in the mornings and getting to work leave me feeling like I’ve run a marathon – mentally as well as physically. Of course, being at work is another Olympic event altogether these days. Of course, there’s the hammering I’m getting from the bosses, but also all the “little” things I struggle with each day, like talking to colleagues, making phone calls, attending meetings, getting my brain to function in a manner that vaguely resembles how it would normally … they’re all like climbing Mount Everest.

Don’t get me wrong – most of my colleagues are just delightful, and there isn’t a group I’d rather work with. I guess it’s just my tendency to Hermitville and feeling like every little thing is an assault in every possible way that leave me reeling. I become so focussed on the assaults that I forget the grounding stuff; the being ‘in the moment’ stuff; even the breathing thing, which I know just compounds it all.

I’m trying to remember to “celebrate” the small steps forward – like the getting up and the getting to work parts; even talking to other people can be a milestone. But for a medal-winning expert self-flagellator like me it isn’t easy. Sigh.

Expressive Arts Carnival No 15 – Obstacle

I’m so happy the Expressive Arts Carnival is back! Thanks Paul 🙂 This month’s activity is:

Through drawing, painting, or any other visual means, create an image that represents a major obstacle facing you now. You can do this any way you wish. With your entry, please also include a couple of sentences saying what the process was like for you, which will accompany your art.

As soon as I read this activity, I knew what I’d do. Here is my entry:

I’ve been facing some challenges at work lately, and this photo I took over the Christmas break seems to capture those nicely, in a couple of different ways. First, there’s a sort of literal representation. I work in a building that’s around the same vintage as this one, so there’s a physical resemblance to my place of work. Second, there’s a more metaphorical representation in that the building seems dark and gloomy, with the spire towering over me – all of it with the stormy sky, almost a sign, foreboding. I’ve been feeling this way about work for a few weeks now. It’s really challenging me not to be afraid of work and what will happen there. Challenging every healed (and unhealed) fibre of my being to walk in there every day. So far I’m managing ok 🙂

My head hurts

Does this image hurt your head? It does mine.

This is what it’s like inside my head at the moment – thoughts racing this way and that, too many things to deal with, it’s all a blur.

Yet again I seem to have taken on too much, and yet again it’s left me feeling overwhelmed. Although for good reason, and not necessarily my fault for everything that’s happening. There’s work issues, my mother’s cancer, my own health issues, issues with friends, blah blah blah. It’s not like I’m freaking out over spilt milk.

The thing that’s most consuming my thoughts right at this moment is work. My relationship with my manager has sunk to an intolerable level, to the extent that I would label her behaviour bullying and harassment. It’s brought back a whole lot of “stuff” from when Things Fell Apart – interactions with her (whether by phone, email or in person) literally now leave me shaking and panic struck.

The good news is that I’ve been offered another job. I have resigned and start my new job in about four weeks. I’m looking forward to the new work – it’s more up my alley, I’ll be working with people like me in a professional sense, and I have worked with the boss there before, so I know it won’t be all triggery and yuck.

At the same time I’m upset at the way things have gone in my current work. I think about my boss and I start shaking. That’s not good. I’m also scared of the new job – I’m wondering if I can do it, I feel like a failure where I am (though I know I’m not) … these thoughts just keep racing through my head.

And then there’s my health issues, which don’t seem to be going in the direction I’d hoped. I need to think about some options, but I can’t. There’s just too many and I’m not ready to deal with them. May be the work issues are taking up too much space?

And then there’s friends, some of whom have said insensitive things to me. And one of whom I’ve said insensitive things to and now I’m in a panic that I’ve ruined our friendship. I’m really sorry I hurt this person, it certainly wasn’t my intention, and I don’t know what else to do about it. I am hoping she’ll forgive me.

It’s noisy and messy in my head, and I don’t like it. I want to run away, never come back, crawl into a dark hole and stay there in the foetal position. I know none of that will help, so I’m just trying to sit with how I feel. Man, that’s hard… and then the thoughts race again and it’s all a blur.

Reflections on 2010

I like New Year about as much as I like Christmas. I’m glad the hoopla is finally over and I can shift into something resembling normal for the year. A couple of my bloggy friends have done a “year in review”, so thought I’d give this a whirl. 2010 was a big year for me and another bloggy friend reminded me that as survivors, we tend not to acknowledge our achievements nearly often enough. So here I am.

Some of my biggest (tangible) achievements:

  • Changing jobs – twice. Getting the hell away from that awful boss I had, and then getting a brand new job in a brand new sector.
  • Giving the whole relationships and dating thing a whirl. This wasn’t the big success I had hoped it would be, but it was an achievement for me to saddle up again. I learned a lot about myself in the process. Perhaps my biggest achievement was standing up for myself in The Great Leap Forward. 🙂
  • Taking holidays – several of them – and believing I deserved them 🙂
  • Doing group therapy, which saw my healing move forward in leaps and bounds. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about myself and realised (even finally believed) that I’m not alone driving the survivor highway. I also even believed that I’m one of those “amazing” people – I’ll never forget the day the Wonder Therapist looked at me and said, “now do you see what I see?” (umm, not really, but kind of LOL)
  • Health – this has been a really mixed bag for me, as I’ve had two rounds of surgery to endure and various other health issues. I’m listing it as an achievement, though, because I’m learning (slowly) to address health issues. I even went to the dentist for no apparent reason, other than a general check up! 🙂

I’ve also made many smaller, less tangible steps forward – wearing skirts, for example, as well as heels again. I’ve used public transport – for years a surefire way to a panic attack. And I’ve been out, at night, and discovered I’m not nearly as afraid of the dark as I once was. 🙂 I’m also not as scared of being stuck in a lift, and have sat in the middle of rows at the theatre without panicking. 🙂 I’m also starting to learn how to listen to my body – when it’s hungry, when it’s tired, or in pain. I’m still not great at this one, but I’m learning.

Of course, the year has had its ups and downs, with continued triggers that spin me out of control sometimes. The Wonder Therapist says “that’s what life is like” – it’s completely normal to have ups and downs. I did notice that sometimes the downs have come from me taking on too much leaving me vulnerable, mentally and physically. I’m guessing there’s a lesson in self-care in there – perhaps that’s a job for 2011? 😉

I’ve also continued to have struggles with my family – especially my mother, though at times I’ve been able to see the family dysfunctions from a distance and maintain (or at least try to) my own “self”. I’m  learning to accept my father’s bad behaviour: not accepting the unacceptable, but accepting that it’s *his* behaviour, and nothing to do with me. Nothing I do can change it, or make it better. He is the abusive a$$hat that he is, and that is no reflection on me at all. That’s progress for me, too. 🙂

One area that doesn’t feel so much like an achievement is that I still feel quite distant from “me” – from the person my therapist described here. That person still doesn’t feel like me, even though I *know* it is, and even though I wrote – and believed – posts like this one.

One thing that’s really helped me is the Expressive Arts Carnival (you can see all my entries here). I’ve loved the activities and the encouragement to do things creative. They’ve helped me think about things differently, and get in touch with different parts of me.

I’ve also learned to more consciously drawn on my lessons in therapy, and the blogosphere – as you all saw in my Christmas survival post, just this week. 🙂

My favourite posts for 2010 – and by chance also the most popular – were these:

Thanks for being with me in 2010 peeps, and I look forward to sharing 2011 with you! 🙂

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.

Catching up

It’s been ages since my last post. I’m still here, trying to catch up on bloggy things, and life things. I started my new job two weeks ago, and everything’s just been a blur. Most days have left me almost comatose and flopping about like a dead fish.

The good news is that I’m really enjoying my new job. 🙂 The people are delightful (if a little zealous on the religious front – not that that’s a bad thing, I’m just not used to it). They’re very warm, welcoming, friendly, and helpful. They even had a “welcome lunch” for me on my first day. AND – I nearly died – I had a desk, computer, email account and phone ready and waiting for me on Day 1!! The organisation has a really good orientation program, and seems to really have some basics sorted. I’m learning lots and I feel challenged (in a good way)… I think I’d even go so far as to say I’m having fun. I’m a whole new person!

Extra good news is that friends and the Wonder Therapist have noticed what a remarkable change this had made in me. If I’d known the shift was going to be this good, I would have done it years ago! 😀

Needless to say this has helped put me in a good space for the last few weeks. Some darker clouds wandered in this weekend. Nothing serious, I just feel sad. I’m still figuring out what that’s about.

Can I just say, if I haven’t before, that life is so much BETTER, so much EASIER, when you’re in a good space – even the banal things, like the ironing. Much, much better. 🙂

I’ll leave you with another photo from my holiday (I’m still trying to sort the rest). It’s nothing special, but it was so nice sitting under those trees having dinner. 🙂