Tag Archives: fight or flight

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.

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.

Triggers: No More Movie Night for a while

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audrey-hepburn-394264_640I’ve been attending a “movie night” with friends at a friends’ place almost every week for a few months. I will have to explain why this is tricky for me.

Those of us with PTSD have what are called “triggers” that can seem to come out of nowhere, which bring out our “fight or flight” symptoms and make us differing degrees of miserable, depending on the trigger. I think this article from About Health does a great job of explaining triggers. The article isn’t very specific, though, but I’m going to talk about one of mine anyway. I have a lot of trouble with noise. Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes I’m okay, I think depending on how tired I am and what I’ve been dealing with that day or that week. There are a lot of “coping techniques” for triggers, but it depends on, again, how you’re feeling and what else you’re dealing with if the coping techniques (such as breathing, taking a break, etc.) can take care of it right then, or if it’s time to go. Part of the problem with my PTSD is that I’m still trying to figure out what all of my triggers are and how to deal with them. PTSD symptoms (including triggers) don’t all just “show up” right after trauma. They can take years to show up, as most of mine have, and come and go (again) depending on what you’re dealing with in life.

I struggle with action movies. I thought I’d made progress with this recently. I successfully watched both The Avengers and Captain America 2 here at home on my small computer screen. So, when I went to “Movie Night” and their top two picks were two action movies, I thought I was going to be okay. My exit strategy over the summer was to go upstairs and read a book and watch the sunset. We watched Captain America 2, but immediately I could tell that it wasn’t going to be good, even if I’d seen it before. It was on a very large screen, and as people usually want to, they had the sound up pretty loud. When there was dialogue, it was okay. As soon as the action started, my body started to shake inside and the “calm” I had during the day was gone. This was way beyond the degree where I could control it in the moment. It feels like my mind and biology take over and there’s no going back. I had to gather my stuff and go upstairs. One friend insisted on going with me so I wouldn’t be alone (I am very blessed when it comes to friends) and then another followed, saying she’d already seen it and could take me home.gollum-472144_640

When I’m typing the analytical details of my illness, it makes it seem less real somehow, and the emotion is gone. The truth is is that I hate all of this. There are other things that I can do, and that I get to do, for a social life. I don’t have a car and yet friends give me rides. I can usually get the other places I need to go on the bus. I hate the weeks where I have multiple days that I have to stay home and can’t go anywhere because some family issue or medication issue has made my anxiety worse. In the moment of these things that I go through when I’m around people that I know, I  get pretty discouraged. I see that everyone else is just fine with the high volume level (in fact one person requested it higher because she has hearing issues) and they want all the lights out and are annoyed when they can’t all be out. (Not when they know why, though.) But the idea that I will always be in someone’s way and that in so many ways I can’t be normal is enough to struggle over for a while. I don’t know what I’d do without a therapist who understands these things, and has been there before, and for others who are going through it as well. Is it “in our heads?” Well, our brain is in our heads, yes. Can I make it go away through sheer perseverance, ASAP, so I stop annoying people? No. It’s not a particular hobby of mine to want to annoy people that I’m related to or who don’t understand.

However, it could be a lot worse. That’s not always a lot of comfort, but I still need to remind myself. I’ve been blessed with friends and some family who want to understand. I make it to church almost every week (as long as I’m feeling well) and I need it desperately. I need it just as much to see others and their needs as I do to just be out of the house and be reminded that people care. I have two great roommates. I have hobbies that I love, and even though I can’t always do them when I want to, I do believe that things will improve and that I’ll get to. Life has ups and downs, and so does my health. Finding triggers and healing them can be really unpleasant, at first, but if it heals me then I’m all for it. I just wish that it was easier to find the triggers and to know when they were going to show up. It’s part of my “full time job” of healing, finding new methods for healing, and working to figure out how the methods I know already can apply to help me out.

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