Monday, January 13, 2014

Still Recovering, Chronically Ill, Steps to Take After a PTSD Episode

Those who follow my blog know that I have had a serious PTSD episode. My recovery from this episode has been extremely slow.

When I finally was able to see my therapist, he asked me what I did the last time I was like this.

"Checked into the looney bin," was my exasperated reply. After all, if I could figure out how to cope, I wouldn't need to see him, now would I?

If you take my emotional, mental trauma and place my chronic illness on top of it, you basically have one hot mess. My emotional upheaval has caused my immune system to waiver and that has lead me to have to get my chest x-rayed. I had been doing so much better physically and my physical distress adds to my emotional stress.

I will say that I find that I am clearer now on a lot of different things.

Resilience is more than my personal opinion.

For years I have wondered at my ability to cope with my past trauma versus other person’s ability to cope. I am able to speak out and others are not. Why is that? I have come to attribute this coping with two things - a seemingly innate ability that I have always had that what was being done to me was wrong and my unwavering focus on functionality.

My life now and in the most recent past has been about how highly functioning I am. What do I accomplish on any given day despite whether or not I want to do something or feel well enough to accomplish anything? My therapy sessions are always about relieving some of the daily stress everyone accumulates and if it intersects with some past trauma it is because that trauma helps to explain or describe behavior. With that explanation a plan of treatment can be created to avoid the behavior that started the discussion in the first place. My treatment isn't about desensitization. It is about function, today, here, now, in this moment.

With my discovery of George Bonanno’s research, I am finding out that I was on the right track all along and that makes me feel better about many of the decisions I have made in regards to my past. For example, spiritually divorcing my parents is a fairly controversial decision. One I made not out of anger, a need to punish or an inability on my part to forgive. I based this decision on the fact that relationships with my biological family inhibited my functionality. I was not as sane or functional when I tried to maintain a relationship with them. The fact is, I have been mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthier without them in my life than with them in my life. Further, I have never met someone who would suggest a relationship between a rape victim and the stranger rapists. I fail to see why there should be an expectation of relationship between a rapist and his victim just because the act was incestuous.

Some of the reactions that I think are because of my past trauma, are actually a result of healing.

I am attempting to buy new clothes these days. This desire is driven by the fact that I can choose my own clothes without censor. There is no one in my life to tell me I am ugly, fat, slutty or not something that I should be to wear the clothes I love. This means I am telling my t-shirts goodbye. I am buying more dresses. Pretty, sexy dresses that show off my breasts and my figure to best advantage. I am wearing good make up and pretty jewelry.
For the first time in my life, I am doing these things because I want to reflect who I am now. There is no other reason. I am seeing myself clearly and I want others to see me clearly as well. When I look in the mirror, what I wear makes a statement about who I really am and recently I have realized that what I wear doesn’t reflect the statement in my head. So I am driven to change this. It isn’t a reaction to being suppressed. This is an action that comes with getting comfortable in ones skin. 

I do not have to do this alone.

For years I have hide just how monumentally tough it is some days to simply get up and get dressed. When you are no longer being victimized, the default feelings tend to be, “Just let me stop fighting and rest.”  There is an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. That is often coupled with the feeling that there is so much I want to do that I am not doing and that adds to the feeling of complete guilt and tiredness.

This past episode has taught me that if I talk to others about things that would assist my functionality, then I have stopped carrying the burden of thriving alone. I confessed to my husband that when I said, “Yes Sir,” to him what I was really saying is:
“I fill trapped. I can’t figure out how to appropriately respond. I don’t think I am being listened to. I am afraid if I object violence will follow. So I am going to say ‘Yes, Sir,’ and try to divert your attention.”

I told him to not let me get away with this anymore. I asked him to take me by the shoulder and tell me, “I am not your father. You can object to me. Do not say that to me.”

It is amazing the difference him doing this has had on my functionality. I have finally managed to stop myself from giving this boxed reaction and started reacting more from a “me” place, not a place from some past abuse.

I also think that having a family member, Nate, who has known me and not understood or seen the devastating effects that my past has upon my present, as been a break through all its own. Nate still loves me. He is still affectionate and loving. He is still funny and supportive. It gives me confidence that someone can see my life fall apart temporarily and love me even when I am falling apart, even when I am temporarily fragile.

I have determined to keep writing about this episode and how I have worked through it because I do no think enough surivovrs talk about how they meet these challenges and over come them. Below is a list of other things I have done since my episode to try to put myself back on track:

  1. I listed the stressors in my life and then set realistic goals about addressing them. For me it was booking  a flight for a trip next month, purchasing the conference tickets, planning a trip later this month, talking over some money issues with my husband and cutting my hours at my part time job so I can focus specific days of the week on writing. 
  2.  I stopped utilizing my phone as my calendar. I have found that writing things down does something to reduce my stress. I bought the We’Moon Calendar and am utilizing it to do weekly planning. Sitting down on Sunday nights and reviewing what events are upcoming for the week, writing them in the planner and then meditating on meeting each event positively.
  3. Time Off. I took some time off of most things and focused only on what I absolutely had to do. I took naps.
  4. Medication. I have anti-anxiety medication and I have been using it. I am tapering off the further out I am from the event and I am not hesitant to use them when needed.
  5. Owning my prickliness. I have been short tempered and easy to cry. When these happen, I turn to whomever I am with and say, “I have had a bad shock to my system. I am getting over it and in the meantime I am short tempered and easy to cry. IT isn’t you. It’s me. Please understand I am just trying to cope as best as I can.”
  6. Being honest about where I am coming from. Several friends have asked if I was mad at them or upset because I have seemed distant and “odd energy.” When this has occurred I have lovingly told the truth. I am distant and I do have odd energy right now because I am going through something tough. I have asked friends to bear with me while I work it out.
  7. I have made a daily effort to think about someone else’s life and do something for someone else. It is easy when trauma surfaces to get lost in the pain and ungrounded, living in the past. I have found that by deliberately reaching out to others and asking about their lives, their struggles and encouraging them can help bring a sense of peace and well-being that nothing else will. A note on Facebook, a phone text or call, dropping a friend off a token of love and affection are all things that drag a person out of the past and into a future where they are contributing successfully to society.
  8. Stayed busy. It is easy to fall into the watch tv, YouTube or play video games mode of coping. This is not coping though, this is procrastination. Eventually, you will have to cope and it is far more productive to stay busy doing things than to wallow in self-pity.

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