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.

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.

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.

Once living in fear

It seems like ages since I was able to blog regularly. I feel bad about that, though I know I shouldn’t. Like has gone into crazy mode, and mostly I’m going day to day dealing with things. On one hand it feels like I’m completely unstable; on the other, I know I’m not, and I’m actually coping well with what are incredibly difficult life events, if almost crippled with exhaustion. I know I’m also continuing to heal, as I was reminded last night.

Just as I crawled into bed, shortly after midnight, I heard my door bell ring. Of course, being so late, I panicked. Heart thumping, palm sweating, brain frying panic. I lay in bed, totally frozen. I was scared almost to death about who was at the door, and the bad things they had come to do. I watched the clock tick over* and waited, everything on high alert, convinced someone would break in. I literally couldn’t move.

At some stage I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up this morning, well, I actually woke and no evil had taken me in the night. Of course, the first thing I did was check the front door – no one there, no one sleeping on my porch, nothing. Strange.

And then I remembered how many nights I’ve felt that panic before. How often, over the years, I slept with knives under my pillow, or scissors under the blankets. How often I sat under the window or by the front door, waiting for the bad men to come.

They never did.

And so, while I panicked (who wouldn’t panic that when their doorbell rings so late?), I also remembered that I’ve come a long way. It’s been a loooong time since I slept with knives or stayed awake all night to make sure nothing bad happened.

And that, my friends, as they say, is progress. 🙂

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* It’s a digital clock. It doesn’t tick. But what do we say now about digital clocks? Do they flip? Swoosh? What is it we say now that analogue barely exists? What will little kids say in years to come?  

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.