Tag Archives: crowds

The funky algorithms of PTSD

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Euclidean_algorithm_running_time_X_Y(Speaking of which, I can’t be the first person to wonder why “algorithms” isn’t spelled “algorhythms.” It would be more inviting to us non-math people; as if it could be cured through spelling. Some day I’ll understand them better, though. I’m determined.)

So I went to the fireside. If you’re not LDS, it’s what we call “go listen to a speaker on Sunday and get to see friends.”  And be uplifted. And I was. It was very good. Comedian/entertainer Jason Hewlett was the speaker. I’ve never been to a fireside that was anything like it. My heart was uplifted, my funny bone jiggled, and the depression/loneliness cloud that was over me this afternoon is gone. I’m still a bit shaky inside (the large crowd made me nervous when my anxiety was high, but I was okay) but my anxiety is way down for now.

So, should I have gone to the birthday party/bonfire last night, knowing I might miss church? It’s that whole hindsight thing. Since I ended up missing anyway. Is there any point in even worrying about it? I think that the next time I have to have too much alone time and I have the opportunity to go do something, maybe I should do it anyway. Or should I?

If math could predict this kind of thing, I would be trying to take more math classes. Or I’d just bug my son (or friends) for the answer. Would that life could be as “easy” as my son’s Multi Vector Calculus class.

More about Jason Hewlett, from Forbes.com

Rock Band and PTSD. Yup.

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Rockband-drumsetI don’t know that I ever would have guessed this, but someone at church started providing their Rock Band game during our weekly volleyball/game night, and I can’t think of a better way to say this: it kicks my anxiety’s bu*t! Every week after playing, my anxiety is practically gone, enough so that after just the first week I was thinking, “If I get disability and my disability back pay, I’m going to buy Rock Band!” Can you imagine my recovery? “Take one hour of Rock Band drums, vocals, and a little guitar a day, and your anxiety level will be low enough to get rid of at least half of your PTSD symptoms…..”  I don’t know if it would be as dramatic as that, but it’s been a long time since I’ve found anything that made that much of a difference, aside from time with friends and my therapist and doctor.

I’ve been singing my whole life. I have a minor in music, I’ve conducted several church choirs and got to conduct my college choir once out of a stroke of luck (and maybe some hard work, but there was luck involved), and growing up my favorite thing to do at home was to sit at the piano and play and sing. For some reason it’s not the stress reliever now that it once was. If I get to help out by accompanying our church choir when my hands aren’t shaking too much, I really enjoy it, even though I get excited when the better piano  player shows up.  I like to be able to be helpful, but I prefer the other person. When singing, I love to get to sight-read the hard parts. I’ve been able to sing, on and off, in more rigorous community choirs over the past years since college, but sometimes after a semester or two (what they call it, even though they’re not college choirs) if my anxiety levels get too high again, it gets to be an anxiety producer instead of an anxiety-buster. One strange thing about anxiety is that something that is helpful can turn into too much.audio-2202_640

In the most recent large choir I was in, it could be the level of the noise (even if beautiful) or the mood of the director or a sudden burst of claustrophobia with so many people in the room (or a combination of all of it) that would get to me. I’d be doing breathing or inner meditation exercises, but my hands would start to shake harder and I’d start to get dizzy and suddenly I’m overwhelmed too much to stay in the room. The most recent choir directors didn’t like us to sit down, but sometimes I’d sit anyway, because….health issues. But I still felt like a failure. I felt comfortable discussing it with the choir president, but I wasn’t sure that the directors would think it was such a good idea for me to be there, and eventually it got to be too much, so that I knew it was too much, too. So choir, the thing that helped me keep my sanity through my first two years of college, had to go again. I couldn’t sing in choir my junior and senior years of college, either, which is a very long story in and of itself. And yes, it was anxiety/fatigue. One of the hardest times of my life, when it all became serious.

So in the same way that Rutter, Fauré, Mozart, and John Jacob Niles helped me in college: it looks like Queen, Bon Jovi, Green Day and Pat Benatar may help me out of my current funk. When I’m around others, I tend to have a sense of humor and joke around a lot: but when I’m at home, I seem to be too serious, and perhaps more my “over-thinking” self. It’s so exciting to find things that work, no matter how odd it may seem. Rock Band’s drums seem to be especially effective.  They just make me happy, even if I get a terrible score. 🙂  I can live with this!

Exercise, a healthy diet, and…..Rock Band.

On that note, the FODMAP diet has been helping, but true again to my over-thinking nature, I get to where I worry about it and then my stomach hurts from the worry, and not just from what I eat. My therapist and doctor both smiled and said that was really common. The cherry on top of that info? My new primary care doctor (new insurance) has IBS as well! I was hit with a feeling of peace when she told me and I knew that she understood.

cooking-chocolate-674508_640So my stomach was bothering me a LOT yesterday. On the 1-10 pain scale, I was probably at a 6 or 7. I had some paperwork that I had to finish though, so I had to get on the bus and get back to the library to print some things out. So, what did I do? I forgot the notebook with the information in it that I needed to log into the website where I needed to print out the forms. I tried to make myself feel a little better by checking out a couple of library books. I then called several friends to see if they could help me out. The situation was getting a little ridiculous. I have had a ton of paperwork to do lately, but three weeks of bus rides just to get it done was frustrating me, because it feels like I haven’t gotten much of anything else done during the day.

On the way home, I knew it was getting time for dinner, and I just didn’t want to eat anything. It came to my mind my favorite treat that is allowed on my diet, but that I try not to eat too often, a Lindt Intense Mint bar. I thought, “I could eat one of those,” and suddenly my stomach pain was gone. Completely gone. Like that, I went from a 6 to a 0, just from the idea that I could eat one (so of course I did). I wish anxiety and physical symptoms always worked that way! (Believe me, I’ve tried….thousands of time). I was so happy that I was almost giddy.

Marathon Nightmares

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I hate my detailed nightmares. I also occasionally have detailed dreams that aren’t nightmares, which a few of my friends have expressed that they’re a little jealous of, but of course none of them would trade for nightmares.

I stayed up rather late tonight talking to an old friend, which was extremely helpful. I had been afraid to go to bed because of the nightmares that I had last night. I have heard this common sentiment expressed by lots of other people with PTSD. My other big blessing today was that I got to go for a walk with a friend and tell her some of the irrational fears and thoughts (or at least the biggest and most important one) that I’ve been dealing with during my depression of the past couple weeks. No amount of DBT and “mapping” was making this one go away. I was also feeling that “fierce independence” one gets when they have to keep asking for help from others and I was determined to solve it on my own. Finally, I called and said, “Can we go somewhere? Or just talk?” Within an hour of telling her (and feeling stupid about my stupid thoughts) I had that feeling of a huge weight coming off. I also realized that these stupid thoughts I was having about someone I was frustrated with were gone. (Of importance: the listening friend had nothing to do with this frustration.) We then went to Target and enjoyed the freedom of looking at our favorite Star Wars toy (a mini/baby Chewbacca that makes noise and is extremely cute) and office supplies (I like them, I do not know why) without having to buy anything, and the disappointment with the lack of a lack of Valentine’s Day tees. Target, you’re slacking in the area of holiday tees when you used to be good at it. Just so ‘ya know.

Well back to the nightmares. I also got to tell this friend some of what’s been in them the past two days. They involved a lot of symbols of betrayal. That realization gives me more things to write on and work out emotionally. One thing in particular that I’ve never shared, or maybe fleetingly shared maybe once (previous to this blog)…. Is that in my dreams when I’ve been feeling my worst in my waking life, I often have difficulties seeing. More often than that, I can’t get up and move around and everyone is expecting me to. In fact, one person in particular (when they’re in my dream) wants me to hurry up and get moving and things are impossible for me to complete. Last night I was in the line to get on an airplane and show my I.D. I was travelling with a choir that wanted me there to help translate French and drive people around. (Dreams don’t make sense, right? Yup.) The only part I’ll get into was that I had gotten so tired out running around doing things for this choir, and before that at another event, that I was hungry and exhausted and finally couldn’t stand or sit. I was crawling forward in the line, prostrate on the ground. The helpful person who had been pushing me in a wheelchair had to leave and was assuming that my friend behind me in line would keep pushing me to the front. I kept crawling forward. Finally, this person stopped talking to someone else and said (pretty innocently), “Did you want me to help you?” I yelled back something like “Um, that would be nice!” as loud as I could. This person seemed taken aback that I was upset.

Of course, it didn’t stop at that, or it wouldn’t have been part of a “marathon nightmare.” The seats on the plane were like stadium seats, and most of them weren’t bolted in. A few of us found some that were. I left my purse at my seat and then went to the restroom and to get some snacks. I came back and the seats where we had been were all folded up with a sign “out of commission” but I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me where my purse had gone. That whole part of that dream was chock full, almost every detail, of things that had gone wrong. We were supposed to land at LAX (Los Angeles) where I had a ride home and a ride back to Utah, instead we landed in Las Vegas.Nothing wrong with Las Vegas, there were just other details in the dream that made the good aspects of these things not work out.
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I suppose I should add some more humor here. My parents met me at the airport and we all took turns pushing each other around in the wheelchair, depending on who was tired. We went to McDonald’s to eat because the buffets were closed. But, this was a special McDonald’s. Nothing was gluten free. There were all kinds of yummy ice creams, ice cream in crepes, pretzel hot dogs, pretzel hamburger buns, but no way to eat a hamburger without a bun like I need. I glimpsed some celery in a drawer and got excited until the worker showed me that the celery was coated in a baked on pretzel bun. So I bought a hot dog, but the hot dog was tiny and the bun was huge, so I was still starving.hot-dog-21074_640

Having the ability to actually tell some of the things I dream about has helped. It’s as if it no longer has as much power over me. I have no desire to ever have to talk about it much more, but if it helps people understand me and especially what others go through who have constant nightmares, then bring it on. For now. I still don’t want to do it often.

That was only a very small part of my nightmares last night. Because they were so vivid last night (and long) I had a feeling that there were things I wasn’t dealing with, so I tried to write it all out in my journal this morning. It was pages long. But getting to talk with two close friends today, and having the ability to work on these things in better ways than I used to be able to (with more tools available) has made them more useful rather than just always troubling. And it helps me see where I can be less trouble, as I face the fears in front of me rather than just deep down in my psyche. (If I’m using that word correctly.)

And maybe tonight I can dream about cute, small, fluffy caterpillars, and baby Chewbaccas that were so ingeniously made with just the perfect cute noises. I am an adult who appreciates creativity in toys, what can I say. Plus, who doesn’t turn into a little kid sometimes after bad dreams? (Ironic warning: this Chewbacca toy is missing its eyes and nose.)

Conquering the Volleyball Fear, Part 2

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I talked a little bit about learning to overcome one of my fears (volleyball) here.  I’ll also repeat why I’m doing it here:

So, when it comes to PTSD and anxiety, doing things that you’re afraid of can be very healing overall. The tricky part? It needs to be scary enough, but not too scary. The whole “need not run faster than you have strength” still applies. (Mosiah 4:27)

Last week went a lot better. I paced myself and I didn’t come even close to being disoriented. I even had fun playing, and went and played a couple more games on and off throughout the night. This “pacing yourself” applies to just about everything in life, apparently. But if I start to get dizzy or have other issues that won’t go away by relaxation techniques (breathing, self-talk), and someone says “but we really need players,” I will make the wise choice and sit down anyway.

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Volleyball-Induced Panic

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This is just a harmless, cheerful-looking volleyball, ready for play. In theory. I think that’s even how I see it, but if I have to be in front of that net, with people all around me, those people (and especially that ball) fill me with dread.

There are plenty of things I am good at: school, music, socializing, French, getting to know new people. But when it comes to sports, the ones I love to participate in are swimming, running (if it weren’t for my knees), hiking, and capture the flag. Capture the flag can involve spying and subterfuge. The rest do not involve a ball. Why it is that I have good coordination on the piano and not with a ball, I’m not sure. Oh, and the big exception: soccer is fun. That involves my leg muscles and my feet. Completely different. And football? I have a hard time watching it, but I actually like to play it. Tackling people can be fun. Growing up, though, volleyball was the sport I feared the most at school.

When I worked at the Grand Canyon one summer between years at college, we used to play huge games of volleyball with all the employees. A couple of patient guys decided to help out those of us who really struggled. The motto that they had us repeat? “The ball….is your friend.” (It’s not the same without the dramatic pause in the middle.) I actually made a lot of progress that summer. I haven’t had much of a desire to play since, though, but I love to watch others play.

So, when it comes to PTSD and anxiety, doing things that you’re afraid of can be very healing overall. The tricky part? It needs to be scary enough, but not too scary. The whole “need not run faster than you have strength” still applies. (Mosiah 4:27)

I’ve been going to our single’s group’s “volleyball and board game” night one and off for a couple of years now. Yes, I’ve been invited to join in with the volleyball game many times. I finally decided last week that maybe I should give it a try. People were mostly just warming up. I didn’t stay in very long, but I was proud of myself. Then this past week, I decided to try again. I stayed in longer. But then they “really needed people,” so I stayed in even longer. For several games. Those of you who have never experienced this kind of anxiety may not understand this, but I could feel my anxiety level getting higher. I kept thinking (how many times have I been through this?) that if I breathed in and breathed out and tried not to panic, I’d be okay. But I’d stayed in too long. I’ts not like the kind of panic that you can hold off for a while, or make feel better: it takes over, completely. I was telling myself that I was fine, but I was intermittently forgetting where I was and what I was doing. It’s disorientation at its finest. It only lasted a split second each time, but it wasn’t good. The game ended, and I was sitting out in the hall trying to get my bearings back.

I had fun, but I need to honor the limits that I know work. When I first was dealing with these high levels of anxiety, it seemed like it took forever for me to figure out what those limits were and to learn how to stand by them to both myself and others. I guess while I’m trying to heal, it’s not much different.

The people I was playing volleyball with were all extremely supportive and kind, so it had nothing to do with that. And I have not given up: I’ll just honor my limits better.

The Holidays and Anxiety/PTSD

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I know that this isn’t relegated just to those of us with anxiety and/or PTSD: the holidays tend to bring up my anxiety to the worst levels of the year. On the good side, it’s usually for good things. (See my post on good anxiety and bad anxiety here.)  This year I have added to it that it’s been harder than in the past few years to find a way to get down to CA to spend it with my kids, and to find a place to stay: and also looming, again, is the supposed-to-be soon Disability Hearing.

I also have a December birthday. When I lived at home with my kids, I don’t think it bothered me. Several years I even forgot about it until family reminded me that day. Away from my kids and with the “bad stress” of this year (Disability Hearing) or even without that, I have to admit that I haven’t looked forward to my birthday since moving to Utah almost 4 years ago.gift-2677_640

My friends have gone out of their way this year to make sure that I’ve had a good birthday. It’s actually not until a few days from today, but I’ve already been sung to twice, received a boatload of clothes from my parents, been taken out to lunch by my amazing little sister, and on my birthday I get to go to a choir concert with one of my oldest friends. I’m a huge choral music geek, and I sang with this choral organization for several years, and my daughter sang with them one semester, and their concerts are amazing, so I’m pretty excited.

I got to do a white elephant party last night with friends, in just the style I’ve needed lately: small, laid back, not crowded, and mellow: and lots of laughs. And singing. I was kind of a mess before the party (holiday PTSD, hello) much more unorganized than I’d like to be, wrapping white elephant gifts at the last minute even though they were planned ahead, forgetting to eat dinner, not getting to the pharmacy, forgetting what I was doing every other minute (squirrel…)   (squirrel…..). But I decided that although “good anxiety” is still anxiety, and still makes you tired, at least it improves your mood. I had insomnia after, and then slept for 16 hours (ugh) and had weird, complicated dreams that were thankfully only partly-nightmarish. I still had some “super hero” abilities in the dreams, which for me I think is a sign that I’m not feeling like things are completely out of my control. And this is why I haven’t been doing things on Saturday nights: ruins my Sundays.

As usual, I will miss my daughter’s band/orchestra concert, because it’s in CA and I’m in UT. I’m going to see if I can bribe someone to record at least a few seconds of it.holiday music

My step mother is yet again on another kick of asking me “why can’t you at least take a part time job? You know, at McDonald’s or something?”  I’m still so flabbergasted that she asks, even after having seen me at my worst so many times, that I just have to remind myself how worried she is about my Dad getting older (he’s in his mid 80’s, she’s younger) and ignore it. I think this is one of those things that worries me the most about my upcoming Disability Hearing: I’m kind of a disaster. I need to get out sometimes to help keep my sanity and my sense of hope alive. I can barely handle planning a trip to CA and inexpensive gifts for my family. There seems to be a huge contingent of people who think that if you can breather, you can work. When I work, both my employer and customers (if the job involves customers) catch it quite easily when my mind goes blank (which is frequent) and wonder why I’m trying to work. I had a group of holiday shoppers once completely freak out, and several of them insist on going to find managers to tell them I needed to go home and rest, when I was subconsciously channeling “I’m okay, I’m okay” in my head. When I try to work, (or do school, even, unfortunately), everything goes downhill. Even when I’m not working, I’m struggling. I have a really hard time not feeling anger for people who don’t understand.  I try to remember what another family member said, that “people just don’t know.” If they have someone in their lives who is dealing with mental illness, especially (but not just if) it is debilitating, I wish they would make more of an effort to read up on it, especially the latest research. Sticking one’s head in the sand and being determined to stay in the denial and anger stages of grief over a loved one having a mental illness can be so detrimental to the health of everyone involved.  I still am trying to be understanding, though. When I don’t just let it go, it consumes me. However, when I start to trust too much, it often ends up biting me again.

Trigger Tales: the Helicopter

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I had been told several times during my twenties that I probably had some form of PTSD, but since it didn’t hit me in the same way as it did war veterans, I took a strange comfort that it wasn’t the “same kind of ” PTSD that I’d heard about. In fact, it’s a common misconception when people hear about mental illnesses that everyone who has PTSD has it the same way, that everyone who is bipolar has it the same way, etc. It makes sense to order it in our minds that way when we’re fortunate enough to not be having to deal with it. Mental illnesses are like any other type of illness in that they manifest in as many ways as the people who have them.

Starting in about Jr. High, friends in one of my classes figured out that I had an exaggerated startle response. In other words, when they would do some sort of game like waving their hands in someone else’s peripheral vision, the person might move a little. I, however, jumped. I’m not sure why I remember this. In some strange way it was comforting to me, because they hadn’t teased me about it (I guess they thought it was some kind of superhuman reflex) and it was also some kind of proof to me that I wasn’t okay, even if my parents tried to pretend everything was normal at home. Jr. High was also a difficult time for me, probably the worst of my growing up years at home, which translated easier into difficulties feeling like I fit in at school. I went from “brainy” and mostly normal to “struggling socially.” Not too different from a lot of kids in that stage, unfortunately. I found out later that out of my siblings, only one enjoyed Jr. High.helicopter-390488_640

I have two kids, about 4 years apart. My daughter is the youngest and was born in Los Angeles not long after 9/11. My former husband and I had gone through a couple really hard years, followed by a small amount of peace (during which time my daughter came to be) and we moved to L.A. for him to finish graduate school. I was going through severe postpartum depression and constantly on myself, thinking I was doing everything wrong. As my ex once put it, “Do you think you’re responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world?”  At which time I realized that I did, and that it was odd, but I couldn’t seem to make the feeling go away.

We lived in student housing next to the 405 freeway, and not far from the intersection with the 10, and about 10 miles south of what they said was then (and still may be) the “busiest freeway intersection in the country.” It was a nice neighborhood. West L.A. is a nice area. It is still L.A., though, and we frequently heard traffic and news helicopters outside. Once I was walking back from a friend’s place in the student housing complex, and a helicopter passed overhead and on a loudspeaker someone said something similar to, “please stay indoors, suspect is in the area, on foot. Police are in pursuit.”  Not terribly comforting. Needless to say I quickened my pace and told my family.

The kicker for me in realizing that it wasn’t “just” Postpartum Depression (which is not a “just” for anyone, of course) and anxiety was when I was feeling overwhelmed, which was what I’d come to believe my life would just have to be like, and my kids were watching tv or playing in the family room and my ex husband was either walking by or sitting there. A helicopter passed nearby, and in a split second a felt a HUGE adrenaline rush, and I fell to the floor and covered my neck like we used to do in earthquake drills in CA in elementary school. It felt like there was a war right there, like the terrorists had come to Los Angeles and we were about to die. Then in another split second I realized what had happened: that I was “okay” and we were okay, and that it was just a helicopter (and I have never been in a “literal” war zone), but I was not okay. I just started to cry, wondering what was going to happen to me.

Crowd-o-phobia?

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“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

I don’t recall ever having had any signs of claustrophobia until my son was a toddler and wanted me to follow him through one of those large mazes of brightly-colored plastic tunnels at a large indoor play place we visited with friends. It really was an amazing place, like McDonald’s Play Places, but cleaner and about 20 times larger. When did those tunnels suddenly look uninviting to me? Seems like I still enjoyed them as a teenager, when having a little sister gave me the excuse to still crawl through them. And when my psychiatrist would ask me about crowds, I don’t recall thinking they were that bad, either. That was something my much older parents were bothered by, not me. Also, the five years I spent driving in L.A. traffic, I thought I did pretty well. It wasn’t like I enjoyed it, but who did?

So, my puzzlement at my issues with crowded rooms that seems to have come about in just the past few years about equals how I felt about my onset of the fear of pretty plastic climbing tubes. Maybe the brain chemical that deals with crowded rooms just ran out. Hopefully it’s only on vacation. I figure the claustrophobia came on with pregnancy hormones, or just with age.

Do tight tunnels and crowds have anything to do with each other? All that I can think of is that the crowds at Disneyland move. They go somewhere. You keep heading where you’re supposed to, and you’ll probably get there, even if it’s behind a long line. Tonight’s crowd was at a pleasant place: my Bishop’s house. “Sister Bishop” had planned a great evening of music for ward members, where anyone who wanted to could perform. Every number was uplifting or humorous or both. I wish I had a recording of it.

The beginning didn’t start out so well for me, though. We got there and the room was already almost full. People kept coming, though, so they kept squishing together and adding chairs and more and more people. We were sitting at the front, because a friend and I were going to perform a duet, and they put more chairs between us and the piano.crowd toys

Someone else who was going to sing had left her seat, and someone explained that she had claustrophobia and had moved to the kitchen. A big ray of hope came down on me: There’s room in the kitchen? (I thought it was already full of people, too.) I can move? I won’t have to suddenly pretend I need to use the bathroom, where I can stay until I need to sing? I’d been sitting there, miserable, feeling like every added chair and every added person was weighing down on me. No one else seemed bothered by it. And why was I suddenly so worried about what people thought: meaning, what they’d think if I went to another (more empty) room? I didn’t want to worry my duet partner that I was bailing out on her: that seems like a pretty rational and genuine concern.

So, I had to thank the fellow singer/claustrophobia sufferer/braver person than I who just moved to the other room. I followed soon after.

Something I’ve gotten a lot is this: “You have anxiety issues? I never would have guessed. You get up in front of the congregation every week and lead the music. I couldn’t do that.”  “You sing in front of people all the time, how do you do that?”

My current theory: music has always been my way of relaxing. Also, when I sing, it’s something I’ve prepared and practiced. Even if it’s at the spur of the moment, I’ve done it my whole life. I did have a hard time at first tonight. When I went into the kitchen I realized that my anxiety was up, and I was shaking, and I’m glad I didn’t have to sing right away. I put my head down and breathed, and the first few singers’ numbers really helped me to calm down. Also, when we sang, I had a nervous “tremolo” in my voice that I don’t usually have. One of those things that I noticed, but others probably didn’t.