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I scream everyday

I am not a thrill seeker, not an adrenaline junkie. I have too much adrenaline in me at all times. It never settles down. My body and brain are always on high alert. Nothing I do can change that, it seems.

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I scream everyday. I don’t mean I raise my voice and yell or lose my temper. No that isn’t. I speak in barely audible tones actually. I mean I scream. The scream of someone who is startled, frightened, sent into panic.

My kids are used to this response and are careful not to sneak up on me, but it doesn’t matter, no one can be careful enough. I am still going to jump and scream about something.

Generally it is when my back is turned and someone says something I don’t expect behind me. That will get a short AHHH, my heart racing, I nearly fall over, brace myself on the counter or wall or chair or whatever is near. I can’t see for a second as I recover, then when I see it is my dog, or kid we all laugh it off. I have learned to laugh, although honestly I don’t find it funny. The fear I feel is real. I laugh so the other person doesn’t feel badly and take my condition too seriously.

If someone unexpectedly touches me, my reaction is even stronger. I scream a bigger, longer, louder scream almost like a howl AAAOOOOHHHHH and I move, run, duck, lash out or some other defensive move. I have hit Hubby – good thing I am not strong. I have pushed the kids away, thankfully never hit them, as I retreat. I have hurt myself, bad scrapes and bruises, as I retreat so quickly. I have bumped into objects, like walls, chairs, railings, bedframes, whatever is between me and the scary thing that touched me. I have lost my balance and fallen too.

I don’t feel like I am anxious or near panic before these events happen. There is not time to breathe and prevent this reaction, they are over so quickly. Like when someone jumps out and says BOO or a snake suddenly crosses your path. You react. I do this all day long, every day, in my own house. I can’t remember not doing this.

But here is something interesting. I remember my mom doing this.

I remember my mom being jumpy. Screaming at silly things, startling if you walked into the room, even if you didn’t say anything. I remember my brothers picking on her, actually playing tricks to make her scream, like bringing in tree branches and saying “look mom, a snake!” I never thought those tricks were funny. I was always careful to be quiet and say “Hey Ma” as I came near so as not to sneak up on her. I hated when she screamed.

But I never thought much about this, about these memories of her until now. I am now of course thinking that she also had PTSD, when she was the age I am now. That she was worn out and frazzled by her abusive husband and whatever else happened to her that I don’t even know about.

I’m also thinking, I wonder if this can have a genetic component. Because not everyone gets PTSD. Some people can endure torture and recover without flashbacks and nervous breakdowns and excessive startle responses. Maybe our nerves were already wired to be sensitive. Maybe I would have always had migraines and ulcers and a high stress body but the repeated traumas put us in full blown PTSD. I don’t know. No one knows. Just some thoughts I had.

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Preparing for triggers

Tommorrow will be a day full of unavoidable triggers. And other stresses too. I am taking my daughter to the back specialist. Upon my insistence, I asked pediatrician for an xray. She has mild scoliosis.

Breathe. It is mild. It may stay mild. 

Because I want the best for her, I am taking her to the same place I went. Recently and as a child. But now we get to go to the pediatric office, the actual same place I went. Even better, better for her, worse for flashback potential, her Dr is the the son of my Dr back then. Same name, same floor. I lost it a few months ago when I had to go to the same building for radiology. 

I have to keep myself grounded and present. My daughter may see a full blown panic attack or flashback for the first time. But I have to be there for her. It would have been better for me to choose a different dr, but not best for her.

So I can do this. Somehow I can do it. I already feel sick, a migraine. Nightmares for days have kept me from resting. I am so tired.

Then other stresses combined as usual to make this week even harder to manage. And yet I must. More later on the other stresses, too much to write now

No lunch,no problem

I defeated anxiety again. This story sounds trivial but it isn’t at all. It shows progress and healing.

My daughter packed a lunch for school and forgot it at home. Last year I would not have been able to do anything about it. The thought of walking into a school office would start the panic. I would rationalize, that it didn’t matter, that it taught them to be responsible, that they won’t really suffer they have money in the account to buy lunch…I had many more excuses for why I didn’t have to hand someone a lunchbox. I was terrified of a two minute errand because it was new, and required social interaction.

So this time I just did it. No excuses. Drove there. Shaking hands, deep breathing. Pause in parking lot for grounding and breathing. I walk up to front door, see a sign saying to use door 2C during school hours. I have never done this. Never gone to this school during session, I didn’t know where 2C was. I felt my heart racing faster, feeling stupid, I start pulling on locked door after locked door. None of them are labeled anything, let alone 2C. 

Then I see it! Painted so big I might be able to see it from home, if not from the moon, a huge 2C on a door by itself. I enter that one to find myself in a type of airlock, a secretary in what I assume was bullet proof glass with only a vent hole to speak through like at a bank or subway. Wow. Sad they had to design it this way, but I understand I guess. And I am the one with unbalanced thoughts regarding safety? Hmm.

Anyway, I waved the lunchbox, and managed a sheepish grin. She buzzed me in. I already had my girl’s name and teacher on a sticky note, so the secretary just said she would make sure she got it and smiled nicely. I thanked her and hoped my face smiled back and that she didn’t see the terror in my eyes.

If I could have ran I would have, but instead I walked back to my car, gasped for air like I had been under water, and drove home once I could feel my fingers.

So prior to last year, this task would not have stressed me. But at some point everything like this became impossible. So I am healing from that. But what is even more remarkable, is my understanding of my fear, because now I can hear my thoughts, my stuck points.

I was afraid to do something wrong, to be stupid, to be laughed at, to get caught making a mistake when I should know better, for someone to figure out I had never been to the school before and ask me why, for someone to figure out my secrets.

The thing is, no one cares. People in this world don’t mind when I don’t know something and don’t care about my secrets. They just want to do their jobs. People in this world are generally friendly or at least not the cruel enemies AF had created in his delusional world.

You can’t force an uneasy mind

When anxiety takes hold, or even anxiety’s precursor of overthinking, the mind is in a dangerous system overload. A talented pilot can recognize the danger signs and possibly pull up out of the death spiral before stalling out and nosediving. But even the most talented cannot be forced through the anxiety, forced to overcome the fear, to get over it, or snap out of it.

Pulling yourself up out of the grips of anxiety takes awareness, self compassion, and plenty of practice. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to apply the brakes. At some point, it is a lost cause and all you can do is wait it out and breathe. 

The worst thing that can happen to an anxious person, is the addition of more stress by expressing frustration, disappointment, even anger. Yelling and asking the anxious person to rush, to do what they fear, will escalate the anxiety and cause further delay. An anxious person already feels like a freak and would love some gentle, quiet support, some sympathy and understanding, someone next to them so they aren’t so alone.

We feel so alone, so often, and we hate it.

Doing the impossible

Fear, anxiety, panic, triggers…these can make certain things seem impossible because you feel like you are dying or battling lions or jumping out of airplanes. We can’t do it because we have the stress chemicals in our bodies as if we are in a life or death situation. We can try reasoning, you will be fine, and it helps, but is not always enough to overcome how we feel. If you feel like your head is in the mouth of the lion already, you are sweating, heart racing, choking, about to scream, vomit or pass out…saying to yourself, or hearing someone else say “you are safe, you will be fine” seems like a lie. In that moment I have to trust my feelings, it is how our bodies are designed to keep us safe.

So I can wait out this response though, and try not to trigger it to level 10. If I approach something that causes this response in me very slowly, breathe through it, wait until I am calm again, I can keep moving forward.

I have successfully tackled a few items on my avoidance list using this method. I prefer to do it all in one day, but very slowly, rather than repeated exposures on multiple days as my counselor suggested. I use my ability to hyperfocus. 

There was an entire city I was avoiding. I completed an art commission there with an intimidating man. He fooled me and my name got involved with a lawsuit from another artist. I had huge amounts of guilt, shame, and overall feelings of failure. I have avoided the city to avoid seeing my art, avoid running into this man, and avoid confronting my feelings.

Last week I decided it was time to stop avoiding this. I headed to that city and got to my safe zone, about 5 miles away, and pulled over at a park. I stayed there about 20-30 minutes until I felt restless and bored instead of anxious. I drove a little closer until I felt like choking and pulled over at a Walmart. I went in and bought some cookies. I ate a few until I was calm and drove a bit closer. Next I stopped at McDonalds and got some coffee to go with my cookies. This stop took a little longer. I did some writing on my phone to distract me. I drove a little closer and stopped at a movie theater. I looked up the movies and considered seeing one, but nothing sounded interesting or worth the back pain of seats not meant for me. I drove closer and realized I was on the same street now as my art. I was feeling dizzy, so pulled over again and did some breathing exercises and texted my sis in law. I drove again and parked across and down the the street from my art. I could just see it now. I cried. I cried a lot.

I sat there for about 2 hours, looking at my art, crying, feeling hurt, angry, guilty, sad, whatever came up I allowed myself to feel it. I listened to the radio and wrote to online friends. Then another wave would hit and I cried again. Once it was dark and the place had closed, and I was sure I would not run into the owner that hired me, I drove across the street and into the drive next to it to really see my art close up. I have not been here for years. It was in bad shape. Many spots were damaged by weather and many were repaired by less skilled artists. Oddly, this made me happy. It brought me comfort that it no longer resembles my work and I can get some distance from it now.

I drove past it again yesterday with no anxiety, no hesitation, just a bit of sadness, no crying.

So I am learning how to process these huge emotions, stop avoiding so much of my life, and keep moving forward as I heal.

People keep expecting me to be normal

I am far from normal. I used to pretend really well. I used to smile and force myself through each day desperate to blend in, to hide my troubles, to appear normal. It used to be easier, with numbed out emotions, drinking too much, and dissociating. Now that I am present, the world continues to be terrifying and overwhelming. Triggers wait for me around each bend, around each thought at times. 

This is my new normal. I have complex PTSD. I have for many years, but I am in a different stage now. I know it is confusing. You and I both know intellectually this thing, whatever it is today, that I am unable to do is safe, totally not dangerous at all. And yet I have to do mental and breathing exercises to prepare for it. 

Sometimes I get hit with a triggering event or multiple events so fast I am not even sure why I changed my mind until I reflect and fill out ABC and challenging belief sheets later. All I know in the moment is I want to go home or stay home or get out of the room you are in and hide. The shame and fear chokes me.

All I do know is that if you keep expecting me to have normal reactions and act surprised, angry, hurt, confused each time I am triggered, like you don’t know me at all, then my shame is increased. You want me to be better, but I am not. I am sorry.

What do you avoid?

You may be avoiding more than you think, because we humans are crafty and amazingly adept at self deception. If you are willing to examine your habits, your likes and dislikes, you may find some interesting information about yourself.

Start with this simple phrase “I don’t want to ______”

How often do you hear yourself thinking or saying that? Are there any patterns to the activities you don’t want to do? How many of these activities have you decided you don’t want to do before you have ever done them? For me, I recognize the avoidance behavior now because I feel young, as in childish and immature, not as in vibrant and youthful.

Examples for me usually include something social, but it is more complicated than simply having other people involved that makes it seem like something I don’t want to do.

 

I don’t want to:

(I have never and think I will never)

  • Join the PTA
  • Run for government office
  • Volunteer at my kids’ school
  • Host a dinner party
  • Knock on the neighbor’s door to say hello
  • Eat slimy seafood like clams, oysters, squid, octopus
  • Dive – Skydive, scubadive
  • Ask a question at a parent’s meeting
  • Live in a tiny home (my house is small, but come on, those are insane)

 

I don’t want to:

( I have done these before but will try hard not to again)

  • Go camping
  • Attend a party for no purpose – like a neighbor’s backyard bonfire, cocktail party, work picnic, friend’s dinner party
  • Attend a sporting event
  • Eat a pickle. Actually I don’t want to be in the same room as a pickle
  • Make cold calls
  • climb a mountain with a guide going at mountain goat pace
  • paint an outdoor mural
  • Face a grizzly bear in the wild
  • Confront a psychopath
  • Get pregnant
  • Drive through that part of the city just because google map said so
  • Get pulled over by a cop
  • Get involved with lawyers
  • Order a meal I have to yell to get – Chipotle
  • Swim in the ocean
  • Ride the roller coaster

 

I don’t want to:

(I have done these before but stopped, and I am trying to start again)

  • Walk around my block
  • Say hello to other parents
  • Visit my brother
  • Go to the dentist and OB/GYN
  • Forgive myself
  • Talk with Hubby openly
  • Have career goals/plans
  • Drive through certain neighborhoods
  • sleep at night
  • let anyone touch me
  • stop eating sugar
  • make a real life friend
  • go to movies with hubby
  • take kids places without hubby
  • go to a concert
  • plant flowers
  • teaching
  • presentations
  • create – paint, draw, sculpt, music, write, build, craft

 

Basically I am figuring out which of my avoidance habits are based on fears, and which are true dislikes. And then I am figuring out which fears are worth tackling, because some clearly aren’t. I would be terrified and find it impossible to skydive or scubadive, but I see no reason to overcome those fears, because they aren’t holding me back, and aren’t keeping me from experiencing a full life. (some of you thrillseekers may disagree) Anxiety is hard, but I can manage.

Some of these items I have been avoiding because of pain or emptiness within me. I have been unable to enjoy, connect or feel what I used to feel, so I stopped doing what I used to do. I didn’t know I was actively avoiding them, but it hurts to think about how something used to feel and compare it to the emptiness. Depression is hard, but I can manage.

Some things I avoid because they are triggering, for flashbacks or memories of my trauma. I am learning new skills and tools every week in my counseling program to cope with these. Some items I think I can manage and some I think are completely broken and struggle with the effort I need to put into this program. PTSD is hard, but I can manage.

My goal is to slowly avoid less and less, incorporating more back into my life at a rate that does not overwhelm me. So far so good. I’ll share some of my progress – and setbacks –  in another post.