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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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? 😉

Coping with stress

My stress levels have been progressively increasing over the last few weeks. To the point, now, where they’re at intolerable levels. I’ve been mildly unwell for weeks, and now have what the specialist thinks is eczema spreading like wildfire. I’m grateful that the rash isn’t some horrible disease, but I’ve never had it before and can’t help thinking it’s stress related.

I’m quite sure spending the last few weeks packing up my mother’s house hasn’t helped my stress levels. Nor has having her officially move in with me. She’s been living with me for months, but now it’s formal and proper, or getting that way, and my once cute little house is filled with her stuff as well as mine … there’s barely room for either of us to move. And there’ still more stuff to come! Then there’s work which is busy and pressured. I like the work, I like the people I work with, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep all the balls juggling in the air. The one for me; the ball for my life pretty much dropped long ago. Which is another obvious source of intolerable stress. And then there’s therapy – that’s a whole other chapter, just there. I’m learning a lot at the moment, but the PNT is also pushing me in ways I’m finding really difficult, and it’s all just adding to the stress I feel.

Take today, for example. It was raining when I woke, and I immediately had a little party inside, thinking it was the perfect day to loll about and potter and do not much. Of course that didn’t happen because I ended up running errands for Mum, and trying to put some of her things away, and tidying up my own mess, and catching up on chores… and when I finally did get to sit down this afternoon, I turned the TV on to watch my favourite show and do some knitting (a new thing, it’s great… but more on that later). My mother had barely said a word all day and yet took this opportunity to prattle on about every little thing, and seemingly nothing at the same time. I’m ashamed to say I lost it once or twice and snapped at her. But, for god’s sake!!!!! All I wanted was 30 mins of quiet time with my favourite TV show. Is that really too much to ask?

Everything feels so crowded. I have no space. Not physically, mentally or emotionally. I feel muddled and messy and streeeeetched. And squashed in on all fronts. I just want to run away. I’ve learned from PNT that I excel at the flight thing, so I guess it’s logical for me. Will that help? Probably not, but I can’t think of anything else to do. I’ve looked at my schedules and there’s just nothing that can give, time wise. I’m trying to sort the house out, but that will take time. And short of gagging Mum, I’m just not sure what to do with her. And then there’s work. And therapy.

It’s all too much. I’m at wits end.

The end of an era

Hello blogosphere, it’s nice to see you again. It’s been waaaay tooooo long. 🙂

My mother has sold her house and  we (correction, I) have spent the last few weekends and fully the last five days packing, sorting, cleaning. To say I’m exhausted is a complete understatement. This does mean that she’s moving in with me, but more by default than by any grand design – at least on my part. Given the circumstances, I didn’t feel there was any alternative, and it’s kind of a nice thing in a way. But that’s not the point.

Anyway, today was the last day at her house. Forever. The end of an era. It was also the first day in I can’t remember how long that I haven’t been working my guts out while there. Mostly I was just sitting about waiting for the tradespeople to do their things. Wouldn’t you know it, I was overwhelmed by flashbacks. Just little ones, and not all of them yucky, but there they were, sneaking up on me again. Dammit.

Stupid flashbacks. They hit you when you need it least and, with me, usually when my coping skills and ability to self-soothe are buried beneath a pile of rubble. I remembered the times Mum and I would sit under the apple trees on a summer afternoon, the cool(ish) breeze blowing through the trees. I remembered some of the times I’d been sitting on the steps with the sun on my back and my father would say something like “look at your toes – they’re terrible” or “look at your stomach – when did you get so fat?” I remembered how I’d enjoyed sitting on the verandah watching the boats sailing in the bay. And the night the yacht that won line honours in a race came home, and we raced to the yacht club to enjoy the festivities. I remembered the times I’d felt trapped inside when the weather wasn’t good. And how the dog used to try to sneak in, out of the rain. Good and bad these things, but still messing with my head. I should have done a better job of anticipating this, but I’ve been just so busy I haven’t had time to pay attention to anything really. Some of you might think that’s an excuse. I guess it is, but not deliberately.

I found myself at the lemon tree, picking the last of the lemons. Lately I’ve started taking real pleasure in such seemingly small, ordinary, daily occurrences. I enjoyed the feeling of the lemons in my hand – slightly bumpy skin, warm from the sun – and the waxy leaves, and the slightly citrusy smell. I loved it. We stopped at one of the organic grocers on the way home. All I wanted to do was wander about for as long as I could enjoying the sights and smells of the produce. So fresh, beautiful colours, their scents tinged with a slight earthiness. (Unfortunately my mother just wanted to hurry and get home, so it wasn’t the sensory delight it could have been.) There’s something beautiful, refreshing and almost invigorating about it all. And grounding; definitely grounding. Since my last holiday I’ve been wanting this sort of experience with nature more and more. I even came home wanting to grow veggies and have chooks! (Most of the people who know me IRL are still laughing hysterically at the thought of me going anywhere near a garden!!)

I got home feeling entirely panic-struck, completely unsafe and wanting to self-injure. I’m not wholly back from my dance with the flashbacks. Still wobbly, despite a hard but ultimately helpful (I hope) session with PNT. Still feeling overwhelmed. So completely overwhelmed. I’d like to stay in bed tomorrow and hide from the world. Or lie on the couch and do not much. Or file my nails (something I haven’t found time to do in over a month). Or go to the park and just enjoy my surroundings. I just want to STOP!!!!!!

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 😉

The unaskable

I can’t thank you all enough for your messages of sympathy and support in response to my last post. You helped me feel validated in my devastation, and less alone than I have felt. So thank you.

I confess I’ve spent much of the last week in tears. I’m not sure how I’ll ever come to terms with this. The PNT says I probably won’t. For a control freak like me, that’s hard to take.

Mum and I haven’t talked much about her new diagnosis either. It’s not her way; not our way. I have, of course, been reading endlessly to find out as much as I can about this new hideousness. It’s not good news. So bad, in fact, that instead of celebrating my first festive season without my ghastly father, I now fear this will be my last with Mum. 😦

Mum, of course, hasn’t been reading and even if she had been I’m not sure how much of the horror she has understood and absorbed. I know she hasn’t been telling her friends the truth. Not the whole truth, anyway. She’s mentioned something about another cancer, but that’s about all. Not the ugliness of it being highly aggressive and incurable. I’m not sure if this is because she needs time to process it all, or is in denial, or both.

The obvious question, of course, is why don’t I ask her? Yea, right. How do you ask someone how they feel about dying? Do they want more treatment, or not? Is there anything they want to do before they go? How do they want to spend what might be their last few relatively healthy months? Is there anything I want to say to her before I lose that opportunity forever?

Of course, now is precisely the time I should be having these discussions with Mum. I’m not sure I can. Not only is it not our way, but I’m constantly afraid I’ll cry. And I’m afraid she’ll get snippy and cross and defensive. The Wonder Therapist said all of those things are pretty much guaranteed, but there are more serious things to worry about here. She’s right. I need to find the courage, somehow, to ask the unaskable.