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. 🙂

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? 😉

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.

How did we get here? – Part Two

Wow. I’d almost forgotten how difficult therapy can be sometimes. After all this time I never imagined that starting with a potential new therapist could be as hard as starting with the old one. I never imagined it would bring up some familiar issues – my old “friend” fear, especially the fear that she’ll see the “real” me and toss me out on my ear.

I still like the Potential New Therapist (PNT for now, I’ll christen her, in time 😉 ). I like the way she draws attention to my tears (which is mostly what she’s seen in our two sessions together 😉 ) and asks what they’re about. I like that it makes me look inside and check what’s going on (even if I can’t name it yet). I like that she uses psych terms for things, which enables me to bring the intellectual and the emotional together. And I really like that she wants me to bring what I’ve learned so far, rather than start afresh.

But I definitely don’t like that all this is making me feel less healed than I thought I was. And I don’t like how emotionally wobbly it’s making me. I’m also not that fond of the “50-minute hour”, though it’s made appreciate the Wonder T’s flexibility with her time.

My challenge for tomorrow is to talk to the Wonder T about how to tackle all this without falling apart, and whether this is the time for that, given everything else that’s going on. I can’t tell you how scared I am. Scared. To. Death.

How did we get here?

I’m not sure quite how this happened, but I may be on the verge of starting with a new therapist.

Like many a therapist, the Wonder T is keen on me having a number of people from whom I can seek support; a “back up”, so to speak. Hence, the Back Up Therapist, who’s had not infrequent mentions on this blog … and earlier (thankfully brief) episodes with pdoc and Stone Therapist. For one reason or another, I’m not entirely happy with Back Up T, so the Wonder T referred me to someone else.

I went to a session with New Back Up Therapist last week, expecting it to be just a “meet-and-greet”; an opportunity for her to see me when I’m not wigging out, so that if I ever see her when I am wigging out, she’ll have a baseline to compare it to, if you know what I mean.

What happened was something more. Something entirely unexpected. I like this therapist – she ticks all the boxes in terms of having a personality, a sense of humour, being a little self-deprecating … oh, and mature, which I’ve realised is important to me because I don’t want someone who’s straight out of school and only just finished reading the chapter on PTSD!

But she also ticked some other boxes, that I didn’t even know existed. I like her approach; I liked the way she drew attention to things I was saying in ways I haven’t experienced before. I liked the way she paid attention to her own reactions and the space between us, in a way the Wonder Therapist doesn’t always do. I also liked that I didn’t have to relive all that heinous sh** from the past all session. I even liked the way she said, “and how did that make you feel?” without seeming like a soggy blanket or hippie therapist from the 1970s. And so I made another appointment. I don’t really know why I did that, I just did; it felt right, I guess.

I don’t know what this means for my work with the Wonder Therapist. And that’s where things start to get wiggy inside. I know that seeing the two of them will do my head in, but whenever I think about not continuing with the Wonder T, I just completely freak out. The Wonder Therapist says I should do ‘what I want to do‘, but what does that mean? I think I know, I’m just not quite ready to admit it or deal with the fall out.

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…

Coming clean

I talked to a friend about my last post and everything that was going on. She said some things that really hit home.

First, that the dissociation I felt – the separation between the semi-functioning adult and the crying, hurting child – was sort of normal. I say ‘sort of’ but I mean normal, or normal for someone like me – someone with my history of PTSD, now under huge stress (think dead father, mother with cancer and in hospital coming up to six weeks, new job … need I go on?), with a little bit more stress piled on top and it all went to sh*t. So yea, kinda normal… kinda that thing Back Up Therapist called “climbing Mount Everest and complaining that it’s cold,” only on steroids. No wonder that when Little Kid Me was hurting so badly Grown Up Me decided not to feel anything at all.

The second thing is that I haven’t been entirely honest with my therapist about how I’m feeling, or what’s been going on. She of course doesn’t realise how scared I am or how stressed, because I haven’t been telling her. In fact she thinks i’m doing amazingly well. Guess I got her fooled, huh? My friend hit the nail on the head – and made the little Wonder Therapist homunculus in my head start jumping up and down – when she said that my therapist “isn’t a mind reader.” I forget that sometimes because she’s so good at reading people.

I haven’t told her about the dissociation. I haven’t told her about the way I’m stuffing those emotions away and hiding them behind my old friend food, and my new friend internet shopping.

I haven’t told her how scared I am about not having her there to support me. That the thought of this changing just terrifies me.

I haven’t told her because I’m scared she’ll think badly of me. She’s been talking about how well I’m doing, and yet, underneath, I’m a quivering mess. I don’t want to disappoint her. I don’t want her to judge me and I don’t want her to dislike me. That’s the truth.

And when my friend reminded me of the almighty explosion that inevitably occurs when you continue to stuff the emotions away…I was reminded of the reason I went into therapy in the first place – I’d been stuffing the emotions away and there was an almighty explosion. Apparently I’m on the fast track to doing that again, if I haven’t already.

Clearly I need to come clean with the Wonder Therapist.