Tag Archive | safety

Accept or Fight

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When another doctor tells you that what you want is not possible and you need to accept that and set more realistic goals for yourself, do you do it or do you keep fighting for what you want?

I have seen a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists now.  They are all singing a similar tune. That I am different. That I have to accept that I cannot return to the previous version of me that I recall before the brain injuries. (I’m not sure if I have discussed the extent of my brain injuries here, I haven’t wanted to talk much about it and writing was so difficult before. But I have some serious cognitive dysfunction, memory gaps, processing delays, visual lags and disturbances, sensory overload….it goes on.) That skills like creativity, and certain personality changes, once altered, do not heal and come back, at least not identical to what they once were. I may be able to enhance what I have, but I will never be who I used to be.

I may never be able to do what I used to do.

Every time I think of this as a fleeting thought, the tears return.

Another esteemed doctor told me this again yesterday. They are well educated, at a great hospital, known for their expertise, and my gut trusts them. However, there is also something in me that is screaming they are wrong. Doctors once told me I may never walk again, that my weakened leg would never regain muscle tone. Well look who is out there attempting to jog. So I don’t accept “never” as a final diagnosis. I feel like I’m still in here, just slowed down.

He recommended I either apply for disability or try to work with a vocational counselor, but he doesn’t think I can keep up with the pace and demands of a job. That was harsh, but possibly true. I may be overestimating my stamina at this point because I want to be better.

He said that I am still traumatized, understandably, and that for me, the trauma never stopped. 40 years of trauma. He said that would be enough to break anyone. But add all my medical issues and it was like adding gasoline to a fire. And then on top of that, a stressful marital relationship, he says it was a cascade of events and none of them were good for brain health.

We talked about my social support network, and I said I’m all alone, completely. I have a few online friends and my counselor. We talked about how I isolate myself and why. I told him about how I have low tolerance for people, no matter how much I try, I can’t enjoy being with them, or think they aren’t good people when they make fun of others, are greedy, I catch them lying or cheating, etc. I said I try to turn down my moral standards but I can’t. He said something I never heard before. He said of course you can’t. You have never felt safe in your life. As soon as someone says or does something that makes them have any possibility of being a bad person, you go into self protection mode and either stop talking, leave the room, or hide or whichever other skills you have learned to avoid conflict and being noticed. This is to keep yourself safe. It makes perfect sense and is your core belief stronger than all others. Safety comes first.

My jaw dropped, and I felt angry a bit, kind of embarrassed, and I wanted to say he was wrong, to fight that, but as it sunk in, and so many social interactions spanning 40 years flashed across my mind. Holy crap. He is right.

Here I was thinking I was over my trauma and it didn’t matter any more. That I was an introvert and yeah maybe I was wired differently, or maybe on the aspberger spectrum, or maybe just get annoyed with small talk and petty people. But no. Every social decision ever has come down to safety.

He said the right trauma based psychologist may be able to assist me with that component and he would help me to locate one near me to work with. He said I can’t live the rest of my life alone, or I will continue to deterioriate.

I don’t know. I feel like I’ve tried. I feel like the people that accepted me never accepted the real me and when I do reveal the real me people run for the hills, unable to handle me. So maybe someone can help me find this tightrope skill of balance of how to build a relationship that I feel safe in, connected to the other person in a real way, without overwhelming the other person with my intensity.

I think figuring that out will help me in any job I may come to have in the future, whether I go through the disabled workers board or get one on my own.

I do know that I want to be a part of the world and connected to people, to good genuine people, and I just don’t know how.

I do know I’m not ready to give up and get on disability and never work again. I think I still have something to offer. I’m still smart in some ways, just really slow, and get tired out quickly. I’m hopeful the new migraine meds will start helping with some of that too. I’m hopeful that my family is done adding trauma to my life and I can finally move ahead on my own. My parents are gone, my brothers aren’t speaking to me. The hole hurts, but an empty hole is a dull ache, not like the tortuous pain of constant flaming daggers tossed at you.

Danger, right?

My safety switch inside my brain flips too easily thanks to complex ptsd. Sometimes I am unaware it has been flipped and sometimes I know immediately. But each time I find myself in the middle of evasive action, hiding, isolating, protecting myself from dangers that are long gone but my brain and body still feel as current threats.

My counselor explained this as an emotional flashback and referred me to read work by Pete Walker. I have read two of his books, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, and The Tao of Fully Feeling, Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame.

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Pete Walker also has a great website to get you or your partner started understanding complex ptsd and emotional flashbacks. This link to Walker’s site is a good place to start. I have found both relief and clarity here, from finally understanding my own reactions. It is helping me to see the unresolved childhood pain and grieve, rather than dig myself deeper into a pit of shame and self loathing.

The emotional flashback is more difficult to recognize because it does not come with imagery. You don’t get to see what has started it, so it can take hours, sometimes even days to recognize, especially for an intense safety trigger, I hide from it.

Walker explains our defenses as more complex than fight or flight by adding freeze or fawn too. I have no fight response. The other three seem fairly equal as a hybrid, flight: explaining my workaholic overachiever tendencies, freeze: my escapes into video games and dissociation, fawn: my codependence on others, my need to please them with no rights of my own.

So what does this look like? The past several days I have felt far away and afraid when Hubby was in the same room. I was avoiding his phone calls and texts, not completely, but delaying my responses. I had a choking feeling when he would kiss me and I would scream “stop!” to myself but say nothing out loud. I would endure his gentle touches knowing I “should” be enjoying it and responding but instead the fear would grow.

After several days of listening to my internal alarm bells, pushing him away, telling myself I am a horrible person, I finally realize I am stuck in an emotional flashback. I tell him I am not feeling safe. Ironically I don’t feel safe saying that, but my adult brain can tell my hurting inner child that she is safe. I am my own parent in these situations, as soon as I shut down the contemptuous inner critic and start some soothing. I feel my heart race and do some deep breathing.

Hubby asks if he can rub my shoulders. I find it helpful to be cared for without affection, so massage without hugs and kisses can help me feel safer.

Then we talk. We are still new at this, so we don’t speak gently to each other. I say what I think is wrong and it sounds like accusations. He gets defensive instead of comforting. I feel ashamed and guilty for bringing it up.

But we keep trying. We both know we both care. I let him rub my shoulders and mindfully tune into that. And then it hits me. I understand the source of this flashback.

I share with him how much time I have been spending with kiddos since school let out and that I have been able to truly connect with them everyday. I feel loved and I feel that I nurture, guide, discipline and protect them. I discover my flashback is from the contrast. When I am there for my kids, I feel the emptiness of what I never had.

Stronger emotional days can bring this on more intensely. A few days ago at the playground I was creating obstacle courses and timing my kids as they went through it, giggling. Our game was so much fun we attracted several other kids asking to join and be timed. Then it started raining a little and my 7 yr old lost his grip on the monkey bars, hitting the ground hard enough to bounce. But the deep mulch did its job and he was not hurt. In fact he layed there and stretched his arms out like a goober and said “Ta Da!” And we all laughed. He was very dirty but fine. I asked him again, and made sure he could get up ok, but then realized he was fine. I also realized that I would have been ridiculed for that, and that I was fighting my inner critic at that moment. My family would not have cared if I was hurt, but would have scolded me for making a scene, being clumsy, always doing something like that why do I even try when all I do is ruin everyone’s fun, I’m such a wimp…

My adult critic was saying I should have known it was slippery, I can’t carry him if he got hurt, I shouldn’t even try to have fun because this always happens, I’m a terrible mom I can’t keep them safe, I’m such a stupid wimp….

So I stopped my critic, but I did not stop the flashback. The feelings of being small and worthless and unsafe stayed with me for days. I was edgy, having more trouble sleeping than usual, almost no appetite, craving candy, and cringing in fear when Hubby displayed affection.

Once I found the source, shared it with Hubby, grieved for the uncared girl stuck inside me…the switch flipped and I began to relax and feel safe again. I started wanting affection and touch. The difference is like night and day and is instant for me, on and off.

I am still tired, dragging a bit, recovering from days of this altered emotional state, but otherwise I am fine as soon as the switch clicks…until it clicks again. And it will click on again. My job is to recognize it as soon as possible and manage my cptsd while living the fullest life I can.

Core Safety Beliefs

Cognitive Processing Therapy taught me that PTSD has affected my core beliefs in many areas. The first module we covered was safety. Below is the worksheet we discussed in class and an example of the challenging beliefs worksheet completed with a safety issue. This is the one provided for us, not my own feelings. I’ll give my own example a bit further down.

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I was not aware until I completed this course how many fears I was/am carrying around. I was not aware that I feared for my safety. I had gotten so used to this fear, grew up with this fear, it was simply a part of me, and nothing I had ever named or examined. I thought I was careful, methodical, a good planner…and did not know these actions were in place to keep me in control and feeling safe. Planning each day and event down to the minute, knowing each route, mapping grocery store trips before entering, making sure I knew everything and no detail escaped my radar. This hypervigilance was normal to me and in place to keep me safe. I preferred to be home alone because I cannot control the behavior of other people and I do everything under the sun to reduce the possibility that I will not be in a situation where my control is taken from me.

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My experience growing up was that those that say they love me are out to harm me. So I developed a defense of never getting close to anyone. I have no fear of strangers. Strangers come and go every day, passing by. I only get hurt by those I allow to get to know me. My wall went up decades ago. None shall pass. I’m trying to let Hubby, my kids, and my in-laws in first. But damn if the alarms don’t keep sounding no matter how much I try to silence them. This isn’t something I can simply decide to do one day. I built this belief slowly and reinforced it my entire life. It will take some time to rewire this one. Once people know the real me, they either have ammunition to truly hurt me, or I’ll be hurt when they leave me. Either way is devastating and seems too high on the probability meter right now. I still feel safer alone. My strongest safety concerns surround my children now, more than myself. I keep myself safe by staying home alone, but I know I can’t do that to my kids. I have to challenge many beliefs to send them out into a world that I know is not safe, but somehow it has always been easier with them, than with myself. Like in my mind they have better chances, or it’s not pointless for them to try. Before this CPT class, I’d never thought about that conflict in thinking before. This new counselor doesn’t allow me to get away with anything. Grrr.

safetychallengeairplane

This airplane example seems so simple because I’m not afraid to fly. As soon as I fill in column A with my own event I get stuck for quite some time, battling my own thoughts, digging deep into analysis, and mostly just “sitting with myself” to figure out what I might be feeling. My safety fears usually center on the fact that I can’t run, can’t walk quickly. I have a huge fear of being chased, needing to get away from someone, or out of a burning building. There are many activities that are dangerous that I don’t do because I can’t do them. I might fear them if I had any chance to do them but my bad back and leg have made it possible to avoid so much: no horses, skating, ziplining, atv riding, motorcycles, hang gliding, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing etc for me.

A. A safety fear I do have is walking alone to my car in a city parking lot at night. I’ve avoided a few outings with friends because of this fear. It’s not every parking lot, only certain ones “feel” dangerous and I’m not sure why. I know part of it is the distance I have to walk, I’ll already be tired and limping. My fear is heightened when I can’t hide my limp, which I try to do always. I have a secondary stuck point related to people knowing what is wrong with me, keeping my secrets hidden, making it impossible to ask for help or let my friends know of my concern.

B. It is dangerous to walk at night, I’ll be an easy target, I can’t protect myself or run away  – 100

C. Afraid-100, Helpless – 100, Alone – 100

D. Evidence against – It is a safe area, no one has ever been attacked in those parking lots that I know of, I wouldn’t be alone it is always busy when we go out, I have never been chased or attacked EVER

low probability – I could be attacked anywhere but it is a very low chance, no reason to fear those lots over other lots

E. emotional reasoning-feeling fear does not mean there is any actual danger

F. I can use my wits and caution to keep myself safer – 80,  and the chance of being attacked or chased is very low or non-existent – 90

G-H. This should be lowered now, but I still don’t feel like this is resolved so there must be another issue to examine and challenge. When I picture myself driving and walking by myself to that lot, it seems impossible, still 100% against it but it seems like it isn’t all fear of safety. I’m also feeling inadequate, like I can’t do it, and ashamed. I would have to do separate worksheets for those. When new emotions come up, it is likely because one event can trigger multiple stuck points, and they can work in levels and layers, one triggering the other in a lovely dysfunctional cascade.