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. 🙂

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.

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.

How quickly we forget

I think I’m struggling. In fact, I KNOW it. I recognise the signs: the poor sleep, the constant anxiety and dread in the pit of my stomach; the skittish thoughts; the thoughts and emotions put on hold because I don’t have the time or space to deal with them. I’ve started drinking again. Nothing you’d call a problem, but I do like a little something at the end of the day to quell the anxiety and keep my mother’s voice from boring into my head. I like the calm; the almost-peace that comes it, and my ability to forget that now my house feels like the cess pit of negativity and cynicism.

I went out with some friends the other night and got absolutely hammered. I loved it. It was the first time in ages I’ve forgotten – or almost forgotten – all the cr*p that’s going on in my life. I also contemplated taking drugs – something I’ve not thought about for a long, long, LONG time.

This isn’t about doing myself any harm. Not really. In fact that’s just about the furthest thing from my mind. I just want to block things out, forget about everything for a while. Understandable, I suppose, given that my mother is now out of hospital and staying at my place* and given that she potentially has another type of cancer on top of her original cancer. Not a spread – a new cancer. Entirely separate, they say, just a “coincidence.” Cr*p huh? She’s having another biopsy this week, so we’ll know more in about ten days time.

I was flicking through some old blog posts this week, when I came across this one. It’s about coping and all the different things I’ve done over the years to cope – the good things, and the bad. I realized how much work I’ve done with the Wonder Therapist to develop new coping mechanisms, and how quickly I seem to have forgotten them.

A nice realization, but it hasn’t really helped me. I still wanted to spend my weekend blotto or unconscious. I know this is something I should discuss with my therapist, and I will. I do feel a bit embarrassed, though, given I thought all these maladaptive things were pretty much behind me. I guess not. Sigh. Hell, I guess at least I’m not cutting myself, right?

blah blah

* Her proposal to move in is as yet unresolved. I’m pretty much ignoring it for now. At least until we get the results of her latest round of tests.

A scary time

I got back from my holiday last week – it was lovely. The warmth of the sun, the beautiful tropical gardens, the wonderfully gentle people… all blissful, except for the cold I picked up while away. No biggie, right? Well, apparently not.

A day or two after I got home I couldn’t breathe.  I was gasping, rattling, wheezing, or not depending on how shallow a breath I took. I get asthma, so I took the reliever puffer thingy. It didn’t work so I took more. It still didn’t work so I did an “emergency boost” (four puffs). Still nothing, though by now my heart was racing and the rest of me jittery, my hands shaking.

I couldn’t talk more than a few short words at a time. This made communication with the mother difficult and tense and endlessly snippy.

And my thoughts raced, like they’re guaranteed to do in the wee small hours. My thoughts became scattered. I wasn’t thinking clearly. This must be the worst combination – physically unwell and mentally on edge. At least when it’s only one, you have the health of the other to help you through. Both at once? That’s just wrong.

I hoped that by the morning I would feel better, wondering what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately I didn’t. I contemplated going to the ER, but let myself be talked out of it by the mother – she thought some “inhalation” would help. It didn’t. A warm cup of tea? Momentarily, but not enough to make a difference. And of course the communication continued to be stilted – her thinking I was in a bad mood; me just unable to breathe.

By midafternoon I’d had enough and headed for the ER. I was scared; I hate hospitals – especially when they rushed me through triage and straight into the medical bit, no waiting (much to the chagrin of the other punters in the waiting room). And then they wanted to admit me – “my god no, I’m not that sick,” I thought – “you look sick. You need to be here,” they said, though they were really lovely about it.

Drugs, monitors, breathing devices, blood tests, injections. Rinse and repeat.

A couple of days later I’m home. Better, but still not great. I’m still not thinking clearly and my head is filled with ugly thoughts. My night time anxiety is growing as I know the next few hours are the worst for asthma. Will I get to sleep? Will I have to make another dash to the ER?

I’m sorry to say this is making the bliss of my holiday evaporate pretty quickly. 😦

Panic attacks

I’ve been having panic attacks a lot lately. I’ve no doubt that the new job-old job thing has something to do with it. At least I hope it does, because I’ve no other reason for being this freaky. All the same, it’s been driving me nuts.

Just as an example, I’ve booked a holiday in between jobs. Eight days of glorious sunshine, pristine white beach and cocktails… of course there’ll be cocktails. 🙂

My therapist is, of course, delighted that I’ve booked a holiday. One of the very many things she’s taught me is that we deserve holidays; all of us. Another is that a holiday doesn’t have to be a big drama, or a month-long adventure. Short and sweet is just as good, if not sometimes better. Just book something and go – the rest will take care of itself.

Trouble is, I hate flying. I mean, I REALLY HATE FLYING. I tried to do the “book and go” thing – with the cheapest flights I could find. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t do it. When my travel agent told me what row I’d have to sit in on the plane, I freaked. Heart pounding, hyperventilating, palm sweating freaked. Flashes of long queues, squishy seats, the incessant noise, the throngs of people …

I couldn’t do it. This, people, is my worst nightmare.

So, I booked the more expensive seats to give me more space and less squish. So that I won’t have to climb over sixty people to get to the toilet. So that I’ll be close to the exit. Not that I’m all that worried about something bad happening (though I hate turbulence). I just can’t stand that squish.

I learnt a few years ago that these seats – where you pay extra to choose where you sit; where you get to sit closer to the front; where you don’t have to walk half a mile to the toilet; where you have a bit more space; and where you can’t see the hoards behind you as much – these are the seats I need to sit in.

It was a choice, I guess, between unmanageable panic for the next ten days before I even get on that interminable flight … or something slightly more relaxed, with only mild panic playing in the background. Not exactly a relaxing lead up to a holiday, because I still HATE FLYING, but more manageable.

Trouble is, that costs more. So now I feel guilty and stupid. Stupid to panic over such a ridiculous thing. Guilty because it’s costing more, and I wanted to save that money.