Tag Archives: PTSD

I am so lucky

By sheer dumb luck (?) I didn’t get disassociation; Gawd knows, I’d never have come back. Likewise clinical depression, I avoided it too.

I think if I’d been physically or sexually abused one or both of those would certainly have been my reality.

The journey I took was hard enough because of a variety of factors: the biggest one being that no one seemed to think (including my early shrinks) that there was anything really wrong with me I couldn’t just change. Little girls didn’t get PTSD in the 1950s. I was white, upperclass, etc. What problems could I have? Well, yes I didn’t have a mother, but I had caretakers, dorm mothers, camp counselors, doctors (and more doctors), shrinks . . . .  what was my problem?

The description I’ve got in the memoir is that it was like I was a balloon, with a large rip underneath, which no one else saw. They all expected me to soar! I had all these things going for me: beautiful home, enough $, educated family, etc. etc. etc. But I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried  —  they didn’t get it. No one did. And that just layered atop the Abuser’s narrative: there was something wrong with me, at my DNA or such. And for whatever reason, for 42 years before diagnosis, I just kept trying to prove her wrong. I kept trying to get my family to tell me they approved of me. I kept trying. I’d win once in a while, but I’d lose more often. Then I’d despair. I became increasingly more bitter and cynical.

Then this 6’1″ miracle happened to me. And things started to change because I believed one person didn’t think I was horrible. I called him my “shield against the world” for most of the first 10 years we were married. Whenever he was out of town, my anxiety went back up to the old levels  — I was back in the hell I’d lived in before: the hostile universe, the world where people would take anything and everything they could from me, because it was me.

It took a long time and a lot of work on his part before I really got that people didn’t see some devil mark on me, that said they should be nasty or whatever. That many people in the world would like me, if I gave them 1/2 a chance. That I wasn’t sub-human, stupid, ugly, and inherently unlovable.  I was starting down that path when my hormones went ape for the 2nd time and I had my midlife crisis, over 20 years ago now.

And got a hugely lucky break. The marriage counseling we got was from a woman who knew about PTSD.

She diagnosed and helped me learn how to  deal with it. We learned to deal with the things we hadn’t been able to and I kept seeing her, over 12 years by the time she retired.

Somewhere around 55, I stopped hurting. That was so phenomenal! The really odd thing for me was that no one noticed! I wanted a parade, a statue put up, something !!! It had been my goal as long as I could remember: “Don’t hurt.”

I still carry the pain, but these days it’s not ever-present, it’s associated with my past. And, yes, I still chose every day to deal or cope with it, or not. But because it’s no longer associated with HERE and NOW I can make that decision nearly automatically to NOT deal with it, not have it be part of my narrative today. I finally have a life which is not wrapped around hiding the pain, excusing the pain, explaining the pain, showing the pain or denying its existence.

It’s there, and most days I don’t have to deal with it any more; most days. Of course, this is PTSD, which means that at any moment, life could just pick me up and throw me into the fun house and away we go. The Hallmark movie not too long ago was one. A bigger one was the knitting. Both completely unexpected — SURPRISE!!!!

Gee thanks.

 I still say I’ve been incredibly lucky. And that’s a good thing. I’m sure I would have otherwise not attempted suicide; I would have killed myself.

Without my husband, without diagnosis, without the work from all of us: myself, husband and therapist, I would still be living in that fun house, that hostile and pain-filled universe. It was unbearable at 16, when I first attempted suicide, because as I said at the time, “I can’t imagine living this way until I’m 40.”

It was hard. It was awful. And I’d love to find out if life has something else I can do? We’ll see. My luck may have been all been used up, getting here — or maybe not?

(The image below AND the quote (obviously) are not mine!)

P.S. I don’t know if I agree with the quote actually, but it fit the post nicely! (I’m enough of a writer/editor to find that irresistible.)

P.S.2: The more I think about it, the less I agree with the quote. It was good luck that I was born white, privileged and into an educated family. Had nothing to do with my work or willingness to work. Although if I hadn’t done the mental health work, yes, I would still be where I was. Change takes work AND luck, but luck (or lack of it) starts with things out of your control: skin color, relative amount of available money for education, educational levels of people around you, area of residence, etc. None of that has anything to do with a child’s work when it is born.

Walter Mosley, the author, was a McDowell scholar one year. He came in the bookstore. He is an educated, articlulate man, who was born and raised in Watts. We were the antithesis of each other, as I was raised in a white, well-to-do enclave in Los Angeles in the same period. My mental illness and such caused me to not make use of many advantages I was born into. His hard work and abilities caused him to become the celebrated man he is.  Which of us is lucky? Him for being able to become the person he was or me for becoming the person I have?

Without the money, etc. I had behind me, I could not have focused on my mental health. I would have had to focus on making money to eat and put a roof over my head. In that way, I was really, really lucky. And, again, I had nothing to do with it.

Quotation-Barbara-Sher-The-amount-of-good-luck-coming-your-way-depends-on-66-82-62

I find the “just work harder” notion promoted by many really bizarre. If you are working 3 jobs just to feed yourself and your kids getting a PhD or even an AA isn’t an exercise in hard work, but a magical ability to make 24 hours into more.

Equally, the “save 1/2 of your food bill” idea only works if you can do things like buy 5 lbs of flour instead of 1 or buy a pot roast to cut up, or go to multiple stores to buy things on sale, or . . . when you are truly on the edge of or just over a survival level that is not realistic.

It’s easy to forget that.

And that’s my problem with the quote above. It presumes that you have the resources to act on your behalf, not that you are doing everything you can to simply survive.

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Stress Fest

So, the “I’ve won” post? Well, it triggered me, of course. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, full panic attacks: heart pounding, palms sweating, shaking, the whole bit, every night since.  The trauma had to work itself out somewhere, ‘eh?

So, the only thing I know to fight this is well, there’s 2 things:

  1.  Stop doing whatever it is which is making me stressed.
  2. Go to sleep so late that I literally sleep through this. Works when it isn’t a full blown panic attack like these have been, and works sometimes with them.

So, I’ve been binge reading, playing games online, watching youtube, because any or all of those will keep me up/engaged way past being simply “tired” till I get to exhausted. Exhausted is the only way I can sleep through a full panic attack. Or, if I don’t sleep through it, I’ll wake up, roll over and go back to sleep.

Otherwise? All that adrenaline dumped into my system causes me to be instantly awake, really awake. When this first started, I woke up full-blown attack, ONE HOUR after I’d gone to sleep.

Several hours later, when I finally went to sleep again, I was so tired I slept through the night.

The first option, stopping what I was doing that caused the panic? Well that’s dishes, laundry, making the bed, and cleaning the bathroom counter. I haven’t entirely stopped, but I slowed down. The dishes aren’t all done now when I go to bed. The laundry isn’t all downstairs either in the washer or dryer, etc. I stopped being on top of it — I’ve let it slide, but I haven’t quit entirely — that’s the best I can do right now.

And that’s good enough — it has to be good enough because it’s all I can do.

Don’t know what I’m referring to? Here.

 

The Thing About Stigma

I need to say this, but it really should be obvious?

I do not look down on myself because I have PTSD or security issues or sometimes react inappropriately — right? I do NOT have the stigma.

You do.

The stigma doesn’t come from me. I know why I’m here (now). I know why I react the way I do (mostly). I have spent a large part of my life learning wtf was wrong with me???

And the answer to that question? It’s simple: It’s nothing. There’s nothing wrong with me. I reacted in a normal way to an abnormal or substandard set of circumstances. All of the people with PTSD aren’t “sick,” we’re different, yes, but NOT sick.

PTSD IS NORMAL — in certain circumstances. Mental health issues ARE normal, in certain circumstances. Get over your superiority people! The only reason you aren’t where I and others are is that you haven’t been tested this much, yet.

How well do you think you would you do???

 

 

The War with Clutter

I have been fighting clutter for a long time now! My big issue remember isn’t getting rid of things, for decades it was living in a cleared space, which gave me panic attacks. That meant I was “wedded” to having clutter. So — I kept trying and before my PTSD diagnosis and work, there was no way I could fix it.

Since, I’ve tried, lots of different ideas (I’ve talked about some, here, for the past 6 years) and attempted to find ways around/through/vanquish my stupid panic attacks.

In the process, I came to a few realizations about clutter:

  1. Clutter gets in your way when trying clean an area.
  2. Removing Clutter is almost always the first step in a cleaning plan. (For anyone who isn’t me.)
  3. Clutter is normally made up of things you can pick up: dishes, laundry, papers, game pieces, bills, etc.

But because I’m me what this all means is that it’s interesting, certainly, but it doesn’t help me declutter.

What works? Well, the same thing that works when I’m knitting: being just slightly distracted. I tried trying to “dance” while I was cleaning and although that was fun, and Gawd knows I need the exercise, the cleaning was subpar. So no.

I tried “writing” in my head, that is storytelling. Except that what would happen is that I’d inevitably go back to the bad stuff, punch that button AND BRING ON a panic attack. No again.

I don’t know about others with PTSD, but math is my friend. Math is concrete, it is almost always the same. It has no emotional good or bad or family or traditions that I know of to punch any buttons at all.

So, I invented a game for myself. It’s 5:1. For every item I use, I have accrued 5 items I need to clean, clean up, put away, etc. I also learned from the 6-5 lists that I can’t carry it forward, or I’ll get too discouraged, so the counter is reset to 0 every morning.

When I get up in the morning, I have a cup of coffee with milk and stir it with a spoon, and that puts me at 10. After a couple of weeks of this, I am doing things like putting dishes away while the coffee gets hot, so I start with 0 or in the + column. Daily flatware (forks, knives, spoons) 3 pieces = 1, most everything else is 1 for 1, so a pot is 1 and putting a serving spoon away is also 1.

I wrote down one day last week:

Description Negative Positive Balance Time
Mug & spoon used -10 -10 7:30 a.m.
Dishes washed +14 +4 10:00 a.m.
Wood stove glass cleaned +1 +5
Hearth swept +1 +6
Wood stove accessories cleaned +3 +9
Wood box tidied & maintained +2 +11
Kindling boxes tidied & maintained +2 +13
Trashcan emptied & put away +2 +15 10:10 a.m.
Shelf cleaned +1 +16
1 item to trash +12 +17
Mug in sink -5 +12
Swept 5 areas & kitchen +6 +18
Cleaned 5 stairs +5 +23
Rag & spray bottle put away +2 +25
Broom & dustpan cleaned/put away +4 +29
2 chunks newspaper trashed +2 +31 11:25 a.m.
8 papers trashed +8 +39
6 things put away +6 +45 11:38 a.m.
1 plate used -5 +40

5 items used while making lunch -25 +15 12:10p.m.
Dishwasher emptied +10 +25
Cooking, serving lunch used 9 items -45 -20 12:39 p.m
22 items washed +22 +2 1:06 p.m.
Package arrives -15 -13 1:15 p.m.
Dishes put away +11 -2
Dinner was provided by a friend. One pan needed to heat it. -5 -7 5:20 p.m.
2 dinner dishes & 2 forks -10 -17 5:30 p.m.
Washed dishes & culled items +19 +2 9:05 p.m.

If you don’t have to make up games to do this sort of thing — good for you! I wish that was true for me, but it isn’t. Also, I only do this Monday – Friday. Weekends are for being with my husband and focusing on US, not cleaning!

If you’re not dehoarding, you might want to try this at 3:1 or 2:1 or even 1:1. I’m trying to get rid of a lot of excess stuff, finally, and this seems to work. Your mileage may vary!

clutter war button

(The image isn’t mine but I got it via images.google.com)

I May Hex Myself

But I have to say this: the PTSD hasn’t gotten up in arms about what I’ve been doing. I’m amazed, really I am. For DECADES I couldn’t do this, make a list of 5 things and then do them without feeling vulnerable, targeted, panicked, and weepy.

Not there this time!

As I said, the tacit acknowledgement of what I’m doing may be the thing which ends this, Gawd knows it has 100s of times before. But, it doesn’t feel that way this time.

Maybe that’s why I’ve felt compelled to write this post? It’s a sort of emotional running your tongue over the hole where your tooth used to be.

We’ll see!

J

Cleaning Techniques

I have a thing I call the 7 levels. One of these days I’ll finish getting that blog going, but in the meantime, I had to fix a scheduling problem with it. My original idea leaned too hard on the PTSD, so got dropped. The idea is to have a low-stress cleaning plan, which if you’re me is nearly impossible. Any schedule leans on the PTSD, nearly any cleaning plan or schema I’ve read, tried, or come up with has too at some point. Because of all that, it’s a long-running challenge:

How do you clean the house consistently without a recurring schedule or detailed plan?

It’s difficult, to say the least.

One thing I decided early on was no seasonal cleaning gluts, like spring cleaning. But the difference between traditional spring cleaning and other cleaning is that spring cleaning is deep cleaning and traditionally, in winter, you only do maintenance.

Further, some cleaning or maintenance chores are mandated by the season. Maintenance cleaning on the wood stove is hardly required midsummer and is absolutely a necessity midwinter, for example. Other chores like this include dealing with snow, vegetable or flower gardens. Another example: we do our own baking fall, winter and spring, but buy bread in summer.

So, how to make all of it work?  I have tried various things over the years. Most didn’t work, in fact none of them worked until I started making my own plans. And, until recently the 7 levels plan worked to cut the work up into chunks, but hasn’t dealt with the maintenance vs deep cleaning piece.

And I think I’ve finally licked that.

We’ll see! I sure hope this works, because I am tired of trying this and that with only partial success. I really, really want to get where I can just clean and not worry about it, which would be the ultimate low-stress cleaning plan and that’s my ultimate goal!

J

 

 

People Ask

me these days

  • Do I enjoy knitting?
  • Is the house clean yet? And, am I happy with it?

The answer is no to both. But that’s not specifically what I want to talk about.

There is a perception out there with PTSD ( or maybe other things too?) that if you do a certain amount of work, get to where you can undo a lot if not all of the consequences or symptoms of something — it’s gone.

Yes, I can knit now without a major anxiety attack. No, I don’t know what the trauma was. I did enough knitting last year that it no longer affects me like it did. However, that said, the anxiety does still come up on occasion.

Yes, the house is cleaner. Yes, the living room is mostly decorated. No, it isn’t “clean.” No, I don’t mange to maintain it consistently.

Habits are anathema for PTSD folks. Habits make you predictable and therefore vulnerable. I seem to have this more than a lot of people because of the triple whammy of being emotionally abused (you can’t win in a really dysfunctional situation, by definition) by an alcoholic (where the rules change all the time) and it starting so young. (I only remember a few days before the abuse, although that started when I was almost 4.)

Anyway, no, I’m not having anxiety attacks about either the knitting or the house, but my ability to work on either comes & goes. Why people think that at some point, you just finish the thing as if it’s not the hardest piece? I don’t know. Finishing something is harder for me than not doing it — it’s another whole level of being vulnerable.

There’s one of several reasons that I haven’t touched the memoir retype for months, hadn’t tried to knit for months, haven’t touched my office, etc. Doing a little knitting a little work on the living room, some dishes and other things is about all I can manage right now. If that seems completely ridiculous to you? Well, I’m sorry. You have your anxieties about whatever — I’ve got mine.

Healing isn’t a straight, even line for me. It comes & goes. I think my mind decides I’m going to do something — and I do it, for a while. Then my body kicks in and everything stops until my body decides the new thing is at least not a complete threat. Then I can pick it up again and push ahead.

People say things to me when I’m getting things done like, “You make me tired.” but you see, there are MONTHS where I get damned little done. I numb out, backslide, and hide. Then I get another spurt of productiveness and go like mad, as long as it lasts.

This cycle is irritating, but it’s how I get things done. If I plan to do x or y and z every day? Huh, that may last one day or maybe two — maybe.

Working on long-term projects this way is damned annoying and there doesn’t seem to be a “finish line” (no pun intended) — if I get something done 78%, then I’ll just finish it. It doesn’t work that way — I wish!