Tag Archive | Trigger

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

Hiding and crying

I can’t look at him. See his pain. He is crushed. My 8 yr old has a birthday party today. We are not good at social stuff and don’t know any parents in town. He sent invitations out in class and no one rsvp’d yes or no, so I assumed there would be some yesses that just show up.


We are sitting here with pizza, cake, balloons, streamers, an empty house, and a devastated kid staring out the window in case someone shows up.

I don’t know what we are doing wrong. I don’t know how to fit into this small town if they never let me.

I feel like this is all my fault and I have failed him. He is supposed to be laughing and playing games. Not feeling like a loser. I don’t know how to fix this.

So I come up to my room, it is unbearable to watch him any more. I check my email and get a reminder from the ecard service I always used for my mom’s birthday. Her birthday is tomorrow.

Now I miss her and feel like I screwed that up too. I can never tell her happy birthday ever again. She’s just gone.

I don’t know what to do, except cry. I hope hubby doesn’t need me, because this is not stopping any time soon.

I’m sorry kiddo.

I’m sorry mom.

I love you both and I do my best. Sometimes it isn’t good enough.

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.



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.

Migraine system overload

I seem to have an emergency stop button, instead of staples big red easy button somewhere in my brain I have a kill switch. With very little warning, other than sudden extreme fatigue, and a sense of complete overwhelm and being unable to make a  simple decision ,(like what sounds good for dinner) my brain ceases to function. I get so sleepy I go find the nearest spot to lay down.

Today I did not sleep as long, maybe an hour, but still awoke with right side pain, twitches and weakness. All minor in comparison to what it could be. Took some motrin, aspirin and coffee and rubbed my arm.

This attack was not accompanied by any memories or flashbacks. Prior to the overwhelm feeling, I was planning my schedule and looking at the calendar for the next few weeks. The PTSD intensive therapy program finally has an opening and I was figuring out how to get there and have kids taken care of. This program is going to be 9 hrs a week of therapy, plus nearly 6 hrs of driving there and back. Lots to arrange.

And then kiddos have social events on the calendar, other sports stuff, dentists, and then oh wow school will be starting….

I only had one underlying thought. I can’t. What if I can’t keep up. I can’t do all of this. They need me too much. How can I go and be all vulnerable and wiped out in intensive therapy and have anything left for my kids?

I’m not enough. I already feel empty.

Then hubby said to everyone we were going out to eat. Kids said yay!  I couldn’t see how I could possibly brush my hair I was so tired, just had to lay down.

Can these negative thoughts trigger a migraine ? I was out instantly. I woke up to hubby making dinner in the kitchen and a very grumpy kiddo giving me some guilt.

Hubby and I seem to tease and torment kiddos, never being connected or on same page. I wish he could see the migraine coming on and didn’t announce to kiddos about dinner. We did have a teachable moment about not always getting what you want or expect and how to handle disappointment… But it didn’t change how I felt inside, so stupid and weak.

Getting worked up over nothing? It’s never ‘nothing’

Getting worked up over nothing? It’s never ‘nothing’. You just have to be willing to dig for the something and give it a swift kick in the pants as you toss it out. Then go apologize to whoever you got all worked up about and likely hurt.

I got all worked up this weekend in  a typical wifely kind of way and made Hubby get all defensive in a typical Hubbily kind of way.

He was being generally very useful and handy, which generally means tearing things apart to fix them., and this past weekend’s

English: Walk-behind lawn mower

I have no idea if this is close to ours or not, but it is green and yellow, so maybe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

object d’estruction was our lawn mower. Hubby found a new guy to mow our lawn for half the price of the guy we’ve had for the past 6 years or so. Yay for Hubby! But the new guy needs to use our mower, which has not been touched in, well, over 6 years or so. Apparently just sitting around is not good for anything, and hardened deposits of old fuel clogged the carburetor or something like that.

So I go outside, after being inside all day wrangling my 3 kids to just for the love of Pete do the chores and let us all get on with our lives when I see Hubby outside with a dismantled mower. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a dumptruck of ugly feelings: fear, anger, resentment, exhaustion, anxiety and even sadness. I tried to ignore the feelings and asked him as politely as I could what was wrong and if he could fix and when he could fix it. Hubby was unable to ignore the ugly emotions and immediately felt attacked. I don’t remember the exact words, but it got tense and I left it with an ultimatum that I would give him 2 weeks and then I was calling the previous lawn guy back and not waiting all summer. Hubby was like “What the . . .” and told me not to yell at him.

I came back inside and was a ball of nervous energy mixed with displaced anger. I was confused. I wasn’t really angry at hubby and actually trusted him to fix the mower, he said it was easy. But it didn’t look easy.

Hubby came inside and asked what was wrong, was I feeling ok? I said no, maybe I need to exercise and burn some of this off, not sure why I am so angry. I exercised, showered, and felt much better. I realized I had been triggered and was acting out an old issue. The reason I hired a lawn guy in the first place was a time of desperation. We could not afford a lawn guy. We could barely afford 1/2 our monthly bills back then. But I had little crawling people who needed to play in our yard, and had a notice from the city giving us 1 week to cut the grass or they would fine us. Hubby was working so hard back then, always exhausted. We had a preschooler and a toddler and were about to have a baby. We were in survival mode. I didn’t even know I had PTSD yet but was lost in a depression most of the time. I resented hubby for not taking care of our lawn, but then saw how tired he was, and how sick it made him from allergies and hated myself for resenting him. I found the lawn guy’s number on a bulletin board at the post office and did that on my own. I was scared to make a decision like that, but hubby was never in the mood to talk about problems or plan ahead. All we did was hurt each other when we spoke. He would usually feel attacked and yell something and storm away. I would melt down and cry and freeze up.

So I stirred up some of those emotions. Aha, it made sense and I was able to think rationally again. These feelings do not belong to today, I told myself. I trust hubby now. We are partners now. He won’t leave feeling hurt and hopeless this time, he loves me.

I came down to apologize and explain to him, and guess what? He beat me to it! He said he was sorry for taking my reaction personally, he understands it wasn’t really about him, not about today. Woah. I said I was sorry for digging up past resentment and told him I trust him to do what is right. I told him how much money we had left until payday so he could plan accordingly. We worked together and resolved an issue without letting it escalate. We both used our coping tools learned in therapy (have I mentioned how great my therapist is?!?) to get us through what could have been ugly.

Now, I have PTSD, so my reaction was particularly strong. But I have to wonder how many couples struggle with something similar, fighting about a past feeling, because we are so afraid to get hurt again, that we unknowingly set the stage to get hurt again. Someone has to put the growned up pants on and take the first step to analyze, then retreat, then come back together.

I think we’re growing up, learning, and building the strongest marriage possible. WE ARE. Not just me.

I’m not sure if I can stand this much happiness. I’m afraid I may turn in to one of the perky smiley people that I usually can’t stand. 🙂 I’ve actually caught myself smiling these days, when I’m all alone. I catch a glimpse of myself in the window as I’m going by and stop to look, because my eyes are smiling too. Not crazy wild manic smiling, but not deep empty and soulless. I see me in there, and I look happy.

I mean come on, things are going so well at work, I seem to have some friends that enjoy my company, I have people that appreciate my talents, I have an awesomely supportive and loving husband, I have a healthy family, and I’m kicking Curves butt in each workout, getting stronger already.

I still feel strong, and I’m realizing this isn’t just a fleeting feeling, it isn’t going to pass. I’m starting to think I AM strong and I AM loved and that I can do this life thing. My past no longer bounds my future, because I am in control of my present.



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Protecting Your Heart

I'm protecting my heart.

I’m protecting my heart. (Photo credit: WolfS♡ul)

My heart is always under attack it seems. Being a whole person, allowing myself to truly feel every feeling has left me vulnerable. I have always been highly sensitive – to everything. I am exhaustingly empathetic to those around me. I feel physical pain when I learn of the sadness or troubles of others. And now I know I get triggered in to PTSD too.

I am getting better at recovery when I have experienced too much too fast. I am learning when to ask for help, and when to ask for time alone. I have not yet learned how to protect my heart in the first place – not entirely, and I’m not entirely sure this is even possible or healthy anyway. I mean, I am avoiding toxic people, and I have healthy boundaries in place for slightly toxic yet unavoidable people. I am slowly allowing others into my life, expanding my social network, and working on getting myself socially integrated with the world around me.

Fine, good, this all sounds great, right? Wrong. I don’t like the world around me. Too many triggers, too much pain.

The other day, I had a completely lovely day of painting with Hubby while the kids were at school. I conquered the scaffold, with Hubby’s help, and got over the feeling that I was falling and actually enjoyed myself up there. I was feeling strong and happy.

And then I walk over to the bus stop to get the kiddos after school. Several other parents are over there talking, so I join them instead of standing alone. I quickly wish I hadn’t. (If you don’t want to know about it – stop reading here). They were discussing some story from the news about a little girl that was nearly raped in the city next to ours. I don’t watch or listen to news stories like that, I know these things happen, but I don’t want to feel the pain every day. They went into detail, saying this girl was about 8 years old, and an older man grabbed her right from her back yard and pulled her into her shed. Amazingly, a neighbor boy saw it happen and went inside to get the girl’s father. I guess the father got there just as the man was taking off the girl’s underwear, but no other harm had happened yet. Then the father picked up some tools from his shed and beat the man to death right there, in front of the children.

The familiar symptoms of a trigger hit me, the nausea, the dizziness, the sweating, the racing heart and racing thoughts. I stumbled backwards a little. I was speechless. I looked for the bus – not here yet. I looked for any clue from the other parents that they could tell I was about to lose control – no one seemed to notice, and that actually calmed me a bit to know I was externally ok then.

The discussion continued, as each parent ad grandparent expressed their pleasure that a pedophile had been murdered and each one bragged about how they would have done the same. They said the news stated there would be no trial, the man was said to be completely justified in his actions. The one grandpa said if he ever caught a man looking at his grand daughters the cops would have to put him back together like a jigsaw puzzle before they could ID the fu**er.

Then the one mom said something that made me think. She said she totally thinks the father did the right thing, and she was sure she would also go all “Mama Bear” and kill whoever was hurting her kids, but that she wonders about that little girl. That little girl that doesn’t know about sex or rape or what she was saved from. The little girl that saw her dad brutally murder an old man. She said the girl was still going to have PTSD, but her flashbacks would not be about rape, it would be about what her daddy did.

As she was talking, I was of course picturing my own dad, not as my hero, but as my attacker. And how many times I have pictured someone killing him for me, saving me. The only thing i could think right then, was how horrible, yes, but at least this little girl’s world was still upright. In her world, her dad rescued her from the bad guy. In my world, my dad was the bad guy. I did not consciously want to compare stories, it just happens. That’s how triggers work. I’d love to be free of them ,but I am not – yet.

Luckily the school bus was coming, so I started walking towards it, away from this painful discussion. I was having trouble walking and seeing at that point, like I was looking into bright light, everything was whiter than usual. I hugged my kids as they got off the bus and steered them home. I stepped off the sidewalk and twisted my ankle, and some part of me heard another mom ask if I was ok and to be careful, but I couldn’t look back at them. I had this over powering urge to get home.

Once at home, I struggled to stay level. I could barely understand my excited kids chatter about the day and so many questions about snacks, homework, the weekend. I tuned them all out and pretended to be working on the computer. And I snapped at them to be quiet. The noise was adding to my pain and swirling and made me feel unsafe. Hubby noticed I was being short with them, but did not know why, and I didn’t have a chance to explain until much later. When the kids went out to play, I shared my experience with him, and he just continued playing his computer game, nodding and uh-huhhing. He didn’t seem to see the tears I was holding back and the fear in my voice. I told him I was hoping for some comfort from him. He looked up then, and finally came over to me and gave me a hug. Then we just sat in silence for a few minutes as my world returned to normal. He doesn’t think he did anything, said he didn’t know what to do. That was all I needed, just someone to sit with me and tell me I’ll be OK. You don’t have to completely understand when someone is triggered – because it is irrational. When my inner child gets scared, I need someone else to be the parent, because she doesn’t trust me, and just hold me and make me safe again.

It’s OK to Not Always Be OK

I am learning it is OK to not always be OK. I am learning it is OK to show (some very close and trusted) people when I don’t feel well. I am learning to accept that I don’t have to be OK.

What in the world am I talking about? I am giving myself permission to ride out the lows of this depressed mood that comes after a PTSD trigger. I am letting Hubby into my inner world and allowing him to help me. I think I’m finally figuring this out. For years I’ve had this cycle of ups and downs that did not seem extreme enough to be bipolar, or manic. It was not regular enough to be tied to hormones or a monthly cycle. (Though I do get lower or more easily triggered during PMS days) I could not figure out the pattern of this depression that hits,  sinks me to despair for a few days, and then lifts again. I’m excited to have pinpointed my source of triggers and that I am riding out the effects of PTSD flashbacks. (Not excited to have this, just relieved to give the beast a name and possibly work on feeling better and not hurting Hubby and kids) It seems those triggers for me have a strong physical and mental effect that lasts a few days. It turns me inward as I heal, and numbs my emotions, but first it zaps my hope, energy, patience, and tolerance. It makes me think life will always feel that bad, that painful, that terrifying, and worst of all – that alone.

I’m going to share some bits of emails between me and Hubby. I’ve been emailing Hubby inner thoughts since we started talking about 6 months ago, because it is too difficult to say these things, and impossible to say them with kids bouncing around us.

I’m sharing this very private world, hoping it may help other couples struggling to stay together when one partner has huge intimacy and trust issues, and is recovering from depression, PTSD, or many other mental health issues.


Part of my email to Hubby yesterday:

You said you reached your limit. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am trying to let you in, see what it is like for me, and I guess it is too much. I knew if you really knew how terrible I am you could not take it. You work endlessly for us. I struggle to do the most basic of chores. And yet I can not express these thoughts to you, instead I ask for more and make you feel like you are not enough. I want you to fill out the missing parts of me, and that isn’t fair. I don’t want to be so needy and I don’t want anyone to need me. I’m in a terrible place, and I either have to tell you this, or plaster on my fake smile. I know this darkness will lift, I have enough hope and patience to ride it out again, but I can no longer deny when it is here. I’m supposed to enjoy taking care of my family. I’m supposed to feel pride. All I feel is stress, terror, worry, fear, and guilt. I take no credit for their strengths, and can’t handle seeing their weaknesses or pain. I feel you reaching out to me this morning, but I can’t reach back right now. You have done nothing wrong, and I’m so sorry you have such a messed up wife. I will never enjoy life like you do.

He sent me 2 amazing, gentle, loving responses:

I did reach my limit last night, I told you that to not hide my feelings… Every thing I did was not right yesterday despite my best efforts…you found fault with everything I did..I think that is also what you do to your self….when you feel this way.

Woah! Do you understand what a huge step this is? The negativity I was flinging at him, that he took as criticism, has been taking as personal attacks over the years, he now understands this is what my brain and inner thoughts do to me.Itis not a reflection of how I feel about him – at all. I hate myself on those days, and so I hate everything. Every word I say must reflect that. I never knew I did that. And I always took his defensive attitude as a reflection of my own badness, as proof. Now he has a clear signal to know when I need his help, to protect his own feelings, put up his crap shield, and help me ride out the crap wave. Woah. (Not sure that is possible, but what if it is?)

you are the strongest person I know. You deal with more than your share of shit. You are an awesome mother and a great person. I don’t know how to help you through this But, I know we will get through. Don’t give up on your self or us…….. This is what we need to work on..you are not responsible for every ones faults,struggles,etc…

And then he showed me he was willing to learn more, as he researched online without me asking him to, and gave me this:


Excerpt he sent me from that link

"These steps can help the nondepressed spouse stay well — and protect your 
marriage and your family while helping a depressed partner. 

Admit that you cannot cure your partner’s depression. Your spouse needs your 
love, support, and concern. But these important qualities can’t reverse 
depression any more than they can control blood sugar, ease arthritis pain, or 
clear out clogged arteries. Just as you wouldn’t rely on love alone to cure a 
medical condition — or withdraw love because it didn’t — don’t expect that your 
feelings or attention will be able to alter your spouse’s off-kilter brain 
chemistry. Use your love to get help and to remind your partner of his or her 
intrinsic worth during this challenging time. 

See depression as an intruder in your marriage. Like any other illness, 
depression is an outside force — an unwelcome visitor wreaking havoc with your 
spouse’s health, your marriage, and your home life. Seeing it this way can allow 
both of you to talk about its effects without blame or shame. “Once we started 
talking about it as a third party — as ‘the depression’ — we could express our 
frustrations constructively,” Emily Scott-Lowe says. “If Dennis was really 
doubting his worth, I could say, ‘That’s just the depression talking. It’s not 
you. When you’re not depressed, you don’t think this way. It’s feeding you 


Last night after the kids were in bed, we didn’t talk too much about the emails. He just asked me to lay next to him on the couch, held me so tight, and said he didn’t know exactly what to do, but we’ll keep trying TOGETHER, and that above all, I will never be alone again. He promised he will never leave me alone and scared in the darkness, ever again. (Damn tears again, I love him so much, and so badly want this to be true. Can it be true? Can I trust him? Can I let myself trust him?)

So today … I am not totally OK. But it is OK. I have this amazing man trying so hard to keep proving he really loves me.