Tag Archives: triggers

Missing things.

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disappointmentThe past two weeks have been very eventful. I think they’ve been way more positive than negative, even if my PTSD symptoms seem to have a mind of their own. I’ve been able to make it to the most important events of the two weeks with one glaring exception: my son’s high school graduation was a Tuesday evening followed by my daughter’s middle school graduation on a Wednesday morning. So, guess what I missed? Yup, the middle school graduation. I don’t think it was good emotionally for either my daughter or for me. I think my Facebook post will sum it up the best:

Slightly personal. One of the joys of having PTSD: (and no, I won’t tell you where I got it from): I had a good time at (son’s) graduation, but it was a very large, happy (good thing) noisy crowd. I was happy but a bit of a shaking mess by the end. (Daughter’s) Middle School graduation was this morning. I could wake up, but I was semi-paralyzed and could hardly move or speak. I managed a text that I wasn’t doing well, then I missed her graduation. These are the times when having PTSD really stinks the most. I slept for several more hours, having nightmares about trying to get to (daughter’s) promotion. There is no way I can take it back. Then a certain family member was giving me a hard time about having gone to (son’s) graduation instead of Libby’s. Because, you know, as a Mom I always want to make choices like that, and I’m omniscient about consequences. It’s now 3:30 and the tremors still haven’t completely gone away, and I’m still struggling to speak. And (daughter) didn’t have her mom at her graduation.

Mental illnesses aren’t different from physical illnesses in this way. Oh, because wait…mental illnesses ARE physical ilnesses! There’s this weird misconception, which is probably understandable, that because they’re “mental” that people who have them haven’t done the intense mental and physical struggling to try to be everywhere they want and need to be. Just like everyone else, I have to miss things that I want to get to go to more than anything else. I miss things that I didn’t want to go to, and I feel bad about that too! Basically, I have to constantly work on the shame and guilt and good guilt and bad guilt of all the places I both want to go to and don’t want to go to. And some of the things I don’t want to go to are easier to go to (some meetings, for instance) than things I want to go to (I can’t currently do any movies in theaters….how’s that for fun…you want to go there?)  But missing my daughter’s graduation takes the cake. For the rest of my life, this will be one of those things that I remember with much more frustration than having to miss a bunch of movies in theaters for a couple of years, or however long it ends up lasting. I can’t make it up. So, my daughter was really understanding. She was upset and disappointed. It was one of those things that incites a combination of feelings. I can’t get into her head and tell you everything that went on, but I can tell you what I know from what she told me and other family members. I can tell you what it was like when I was lying in my bed with most of my body stuck there and not wanting to move, and my head wanting to believe that it was 1am instead of 8 or 9 am, and wishing that someone could stick me on a stretcher or at least offer me a Skype session of it. I’m trying to work on my anger with people who don’t understand. With the people I don’t know very well, it’s not an issue. With a couple of family members, it bothers me and I do take it personally at times. Then I talk it out with a friend or my therapist and the forgiveness comes back. In the meantime, I’m grateful I wasn’t able to slug the person who suggested that I somehow could have made it. I could have, probably, had I missed my son’s graduation. He was in a graduating class of over 1,000 students. How do you decide not to try to make it to that? I had done okay for the few days prior, so I was  praying that I’d make both. I had made it to his Baccalaureate and my daughter’s awards assembly. It’s so easy online to see the enormous evidence of how much we all judge others based on 20/20 vision and hindsight. I’m the one who is going to spend the rest of my life knowing that I missed my daughter’s 8th grade promotion. Everyone can….I want to use words that I shouldn’t. I love my family and I love my daughter and I’m going to make it past this somehow. The rest of you who are mostly healthy and get to go to both the things you want to and most of the things you don’t…..think about your health. Don’t make it to everything you want to? Welcome to the lives of everyone else on the planet. And I was touched by how many people understood how I was feeling and reached out to both me and my daughter. And this post ended up long, about just one thing, so I guess I’ll move on to another post for the rest. For what it’s worth. I have way more blessings than I have disappointments. At the very least, I believe this phrase that I heard once, “The sorrows may outnumber the joys, but the joys will outweigh the sorrows.”  My blessings here on my trip to CA have far outweighed the sorrows, despite the frustration of missing my daughter’s promotion. And I kept myself from swearing (slightly swearing) over the subject. 😛

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On a scale of 1 to 10…

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number-10I’ve discovered that there’s sometimes still a large disconnect between what some of the people who “know” me think I’m going through, and what I’m actually going through.

Have you ever been asked by a doctor how severe the pain is that you’re going through, on a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 100? I finally got the courage to ask one time, “So, what is 10? Is 10 going through labor? Because it’s bad, but it’s not that bad.”  I’m still not sure how to do that with friends, or when it’s even worth it. I have just a few friends that I will try to further explain it, because they’re the friends who have felt comfortable in the past asking for more details, and who seems to mostly “get it” even if they haven’t been through it. I learned the hard way, at a more needy time of my life, that even if I think someone who absolutely doesn’t get it and doesn’t seem to want to, even if they ask me questions, I probably won’t be able to ever talk or explain enough. They’re probably not emotionally ready, and I’ll just end up getting hurt, and maybe they will, too.

I still haven’t figured out the pain scale. Doctors seem to be able to figure out what they need to without me trying to gain clarity for myself.

As for my anxiety, thus far the “10” (and worst) for me was the time I had to go to the E.R. My doctor and therapist know what that means. I don’t think that many people have seen a panic attack that’s that bad, though.cure-297557_640

So, a couple of people asked me what it was that keeps me from church sometimes. (I feel a little vulnerable on this one, for some reason, despite the irony of writing it on a blog where I’ve already revealed quite a bit.) Usually, it’s that my anxiety is so bad that my nightmares have kept me from sleeping very well and I can’t wake up. If I can wake up, it’s more tricky. I’m more likely to go to church, but nervous about how I’ll be able to handle it. Last week I managed, but I had to miss a lot because I had to sit outside of Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society because the noise and crowds were too much. This week, I managed to sit outside Sacrament Meeting okay, but by Relief Society, I just needed to lie down. Some people may think, “oh, just do some breathing techniques” or one of the many other things I’ve learned. Those things help me on a regular Sunday, or in the long run, but when my anxiety is hitting a 7 or 8 (nothing most people ever have to deal with, I don’t think) that’s not going to do it. As I said to a friend, “If you had the flu, and weren’t retaining anything you heard, and all you could think about was lying down so you could calm down and get some sleep, would you stay?” Also, I DON’T LIKE missing things. Yes, I do get embarrassed if I start to twitch or I feel stuck somewhere and my mind is about to turn off because I keep trying and trying to do calming techniques and it’s not working, because I’m “running faster than I have strength.” No one was ever promised that none of us would have to deal with a difficult mental illness in this life. I don’t want to make people have to see it. It makes people uncomfortable. On top of that (and probably more important) is that it will keep getting worse until I find a way to calm down, and sometimes the only way to do that is to be able to lie down in a quiet room, by myself, where I know no one will bother me. dice-10

I had to ask a friend to take me home early on Sunday. It was quite a bit out of her way to drive several miles to drop me off, go back to church, then come home again this way. It was extremely kind of her. When I got home, I said, “I don’t want to be here, but I need the rest. But this means I’m missing church again.”

What did I learn from this that I need to work on? I took a long nap on Saturday afternoon, that ended up being full of nightmares and thus not restful at all. I ended up afraid to go to bed on Saturday. I need to try to go to bed earlier on Saturday nights, and learn not to be afraid. Plenty of techniques I can use with that.

I understand those who mean well who think one or two simple things, applied daily, will fix all this. It’s just not that simple. It’s more like a very long list of things that will possibly work, as I go through it and pray about it and talk with my doctor and my therapist etc., will fix this. Please don’t insult the intelligence or the integrity (even if we’re not perfect….I know I’m not) of those of us dealing with serious mental health issues. And obviously I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people: no hallucinating, no long stays (or even short ones) in the mental hospital. But getting over my PTSD is like having a full-time job: but one with odd hours and no sure answers. The answers are looking a lot better than they were 5,10,20 years ago, but one of the biggest battles is yet around the still elusive corner: (will I get approved for disability?)

Hard day/Good day

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face-640435_640Today has not been a good day. I don’t know if it’s because I found out yesterday that a friend (who was young) passed away unexpectedly, but I wasn’t able to wake up completely until about 5:30 pm and had nightmares all day long and last night. They woke me up partway into the night. I was twitching most of the day while asleep and it feels like my body just won’t stop shaking. I was going to go to a Relief Society activity (women’s group at church) tonight that I’ve been looking forward to, but I’m not sure I feel up to it. Every noise outside my bedroom door makes me jump, no matter how normal. My roommate spent a lot of the morning singing, and it was helpful because it was happy, but it didn’t stop the shaking or the nightmares that I went in and out of. I did manage to get up in the early morning and turn on a BYU Devotional. General Conference talks and devotionals help calm me down and feel more connected to hope and reality. I also listen to scriptures, but I wish there was an easier way to listen to each chapter one after the other without having to get up. You know, like back when I owned a cassette player.
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So, I ended up going to the activity after all. I threw something on, didn’t have on any makeup (not the end of the world, I learned a long time ago) and went with a couple of friends. One of them has a nice, big loud voice, but it didn’t bother me. Always grateful for the small things. Maybe I’m making progress in some areas. When we got there, my shaking hadn’t stopped or even let up at all. My head was still bobbing. I’m not sure I’ve actually left the house on purpose with that still going on, but I was hoping that it would stop. Eventually it did, but it took a while. I hadn’t even told a friend that I wasn’t feeling well, but she leaned over to me and said, “Do you need me to take you home? Are you sure?” When my body is doing this, I feel a bit like I’m 93 instead of 43. Tonight that thought was a little humorous to me.

We shared books (fiction or non-fiction, children’s or young adult or for adults, etc.) and I was near the end of the order because of where I was sitting in the circle. I managed okay. I had sort of hoped that I could go earlier so that I didn’t have to sit there worrying about my ability to be able to speak, but I was okay. Afterwards, though, I struggled. One person was having a hard time hearing me, which meant that my anxiety was making it hard to speak up. Another time I was able to speak up, but my ability to come up with the right very simple words just left me.

So was it a good idea to go? I don’t know. It was wonderful to be out and to get to talk about one of my favorite things with others (books, reading). Seeing the slightly uncomfortable looks on the faces of people who don’t know me as well and haven’t been around me much, when I struggled with speaking etc., brought back bad memories of when I was so terrified to be around other people when even the smallest things with my health went wrong in public. But tonight they rallied back and talked with me again anyway. I did sit down when I knew that my ability to concentrate and function was getting worse. I don’t mind sitting by myself when I need to recover, and I don’t mind it in general, but it was a little embarrassing when someone else thought that maybe I needed some company. But isn’t it amazing that I’m around so many people who want to worry whether others need company or not?

chapel north salt lakeI don’t know if I’ll try this again very often (going out when I’m really, really unsure of my ability to function). I definitely wouldn’t try it when I’m by myself. If I hadn’t been with a good friend who is familiar with my symptoms and what I’m like, there’s no way I would have gone. I did the same thing on Sunday and went to church and had to sit in the hall for everything but our nice and small Sunday School class. (Our ward has multiple small Sunday School classes rather than one or two large ones.) I felt like I didn’t get much out of it doctrinally, but hey, I got to take the sacrament, and I felt the Spirit. I really felt like I got less out of it than the years spent chasing my kids around the building when they were small. Concentrating on much of anything was just pretty much impossible. But, a couple of people I confided in said, “yes, but you were here! Wasn’t that great?” So, I’d prefer that every Sunday I would be there and that I’d be feeling well, able to participate, help others out, and maybe even get something out of it….which I usually do. But feeling the Spirit ain’t bad.

I’m super emotional, and my brain is gone 34% of the time.

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This post will be pretty random. As I’ve learned more about my PTSD and the tools I can use to get through it and actually hopefully I hope heal, like BYU Devotional I read recently, healing does hurt. And like the handout they give everyone whose dealing with post-trauma at the clinic I go to, our thoughts and emotions during trauma are like memories (as clothes) getting stuffed into a closet too quickly, and we need to go through those memories and get things put back in the right place.

So, here is this “hindered thinking” that I have that makes the recall of names and grammar and other things that would normally be a lot easier…and my doctor confirmed to me today that those with anxiety have their mind going and going and it’s like white noise everywhere and it’s hard to sort that from conversations you’re having in real time.

And my emotions?? All over the place. I have never been known as a person with a temper. I’m generally an optimist and seen as one. I’m a social butterfly. Suddenly I want to cry in the middle of a rehearsal…just leave for a while and find a spot to figure out what’s wrong. I struggle through games because the noise is still there and I have to try to hyper-focus to keep up on what is going on. Supposedly I have a high IQ (if those things matter) but it may help me appear intelligent from time to time, but other times I’m making no sense. It’s as if I took my Ambien a few hours too early…..almost. Or as if someone took a whole bunch of emotions and stirred them in a big industrial sized pot and pulled one giant one out at a time, seconds before pulling out ten more. emotions-401406_640

Two good devotional links:

October 08, 2002
BYU Devotional Learning the
Healer’s Art, Elaine Marshall

 

Fixing the Thinking

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***PLEASE NOTE: I am not trained or qualified to diagnose or give medical advice on any type of psychological or psychiatric condition.*** The purpose of this blog is simply for me to share my experiences.
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I always experience a downer when I come back from visiting my kids. I live in Utah because I came here to try to finish my degree, which didn’t work out due to my health: then I ended up staying because my parents are helping me out until I get disability (hopefully) and Utah is cheaper than California. It is quieter here than the L.A./Orange County area, and the pace of life is blessedly slower, but….my kids aren’t here.

Not getting to spend Christmas with them thanks to the flu has given me the opportunity to work harder on my thinking patterns. Now, as a warning, I’ve heard several different terms applied to what I’m going to talk about: and not being a professional, I don’t think I can adequately distinguish between them. Years ago I was taught “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” then about 8 years ago “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,” or “DBT,” and I have a friend who is a therapist who refers to it as cognitive distortions, or thinking distortions. I’ll have to ask him again.

So, how to make this short…

22 years ago I was loaned a copy of the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. I highly recommend it if you have issues with anxiety or depression, or really just for anyone. He talks about distorted thoughts and shows a method to work on getting rid of them by writing them down and then identifying what types of “distortion” they are according to a list he made (which was very handy) and then writing next to each thought what the reality really is, which is almost always better. It helped a great deal, once I stopped beating myself every time I caught a “distorted thought.” I was pretty much the queen of hard on myself at the time. I’m a lot better at it now, but I still struggle.

Just after my divorce, I became a patient at an anxiety clinic at a university that I love, but won’t name here, due to a bad experience I’m mentioning.  I would see a resident there (who was great) and then one of several supervising psychiatrists. One of the doctors didn’t seem happy that I was seeing my own therapist (who had specialized in anxiety for her dissertation), and seemed a bit upset when I mentioned my religion, and that my therapist was also that same religion, and that someone close to me had been addicted to pornography. He didn’t seem to think that certain addiction was possible. It had been the source of a great deal of trauma to me and my kids, mostly because of how this family member had acted because of it: increased temper and less of an ability to be aware of the feelings of those around him.

Anyway, they insisted that I do “DBT” (which is good) but in a way that was just like the lists I’d done from the book years before. They had the resident sit next to me and go through it slowly, and make me think of things to write down. They were already feelings I was aware of and had been working on a long time. I don’t know how to explain why, but it was extremely traumatizing. They weren’t things I needed to work on, and it felt like they were twisting a screw in my back psychologically. I ended up leaving in tears one day. The one doctor that I’d had a bad vibe from, I found out later (when I wasn’t supposed to, but certain people had a feeling it would be helpful to me emotionally/mentally) was dropped from my case. Years later, when I heard that “DBT” was found to be helpful to those with PTSD, I felt discouraged, as if it was yet another things to check off my list of things that I’d “already done.”
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Then last year I was blessed to be assigned to a therapist who had specialized in trauma, and to be able to attend a trauma support group. The therapist explained to me that there is now more to DBT than “just” those lists. In the group we learned quite a few techniques that were different from the lists, and quite a bit more helpful to me at this point. Also, up until about two years ago, when my anxiety would be at its worst and I was struggling (like I still do) to talk and function and think clearly, I could name, perhaps, the trigger that got me there, and the overall larger problems I was dealing with, but I couldn’t tell you what was bothering me. Sometimes I could sit and write down what was going on, but more frequently I felt extremely confused and like I just needed some sleep so I could function again.

As the time is getting closer that (hopefully) my disability hearing will come, and has winter has set in, I’ve been having a lot more problems with deep depression than I usually do. I ran into my friend who is a therapist (but not my therapist) and he asked me if I was doing my positive thinking exercises, and I realized that that weekend I hadn’t been. I took it as an important reminder. At first, I realized, the thought came into my head that “but I don’t know what’s bothering me….” but unlike in the more distant past, when I got home and sat down to write, I kept going and going. It just came out. I’m taking this as a good sign that, just maybe, some of this depression is the old emotions, stuffed in down deep, finally coming out and being dealt with. It’s not that I haven’t had to deal with things before, but these are things that came in too much at a time, that I wasn’t ready to deal with, due to trauma, and perhaps this is another step in filing those thoughts and emotions in their proper places in my mind, and healing more.

A few weeks ago, someone also randomly posted on Facebook a link to a BYU devotional by Elaine Marshall, of the school of nursing, several years ago. I really needed this quote and saw it as a blessing that I noticed the link and happened to click on it:

I have learned that healing is a process of restoring and becoming whole. This morning I would like to share six lessons I have learned about the healer’s art.

First, healing hurts. When I was a young nurse in the hospital, hardly a day went by that a patient did not ask, “Will it hurt?” If I had been truthful, the whispered answer would nearly always have been, “Yes, it will hurt.” I have learned that healing hurts. Life hurts. Healing really only begins when we face the hurt in its full force and then grow through it with all the strength of our soul. For every reward of learning and growing, some degree of pain is always the price. Author M. Scott Peck reminds us that if you do not want love or pain, you “must do without many things” (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978]: 133). I think you would do without dating, graduating, getting married, or having children.

Sometime in your life you will know a crashing crisis or heavy heartache that will threaten all sense of logic or hope or certainty—from which, no matter how you emerge, nothing will ever be the same. Hurts come as unique losses, unwelcome surprises, fading hope, or grief.

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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.

Faith to Forgive Grievous Harms: Accepting the Atonement as Restitution by James R. Rasband

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I’m so grateful that I happened upon this talk this morning. My New Year’s Resolution this year is “Peace,” as in “Inner Peace.” While forgiveness may not make my PTSD or anxiety go away all at once, it certainly makes achieving a sense of peace a much easier thing to do, and the process of forgiving other helps me forgive myself day by day as well. When I see it as more of a day to day process, it also helps me recognize the ways I can work on my “triggers,” and gives me more patience. The video is below, or you can find the text here, at BYU Speeches.

Two quotes I personally found helpful, but watch it for yourself to see what you find:

It is critical to understand that forgiving others is not just a practical virtue. It is a profound act of faith in the Atonement and the promise that the Savior’s sacrifice repays not just our debts to others but also the debts of others to us.

And…

In our live-and-let-live society, we may believe that being forgiving is just etiquette and good manners. It is not. We may think that forgiveness requires us to let mercy rob justice. It does not. Forgiveness does not require us to give up our right to restitution. It simply requires that we look to a different source. The non-judgmental worldly phrases “don’t worry about it” and “it’s no big deal” are not illustrations of the doctrine of forgiveness. On the contrary, when a person sins against us, it can be a very big deal.10 The point is that the Atonement is very big compensation that can take care of very big harms. Forgiveness doesn’t mean minimizing the sin; it means maximizing our faith in the Atonement.

My greatest concern is that if we wrongly believe forgiveness requires us to minimize the harms we suffer, this mistaken belief will be a barrier to developing a forgiving heart. It is okay to recognize how grave a sin is and to demand our right to justice—if our recognition triggers gratitude for the Atonement. Indeed, the greater the sin against us—the greater the harm we suffer—the more we should value the Atonement. (see Luke 7:41–43)

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.

“You Seem So Capable….”

Standard

superman-295328_640This is something I’ve heard more than once. Frankly, it’s something that frequently goes through my head, so I understand where it’s coming from.

In my inexpert non-doctor but “I live with myself every day” opinion, these seem to be my biggest issues with being able to work:

  1. I can’t guarantee that I can be somewhere at any specific time
  2. I deal with debilitating fatigue
  3. When you see me, I’m *usually* at my best
  4. I still don’t understand all of my “triggers” or where they come from, so I have a lot to work on
  5. When bombarded with unexpected or expected triggers that take over quickly in an unexpected way, my mind just “shuts off.”
  6. I have both a “genetic tremor” that, when combined with the shaking from the anxiety, kind of freaks out employers. They want me to go to the doctor to get it “fixed.”

 

Things that throw people seems to be that

  • I usually have higher than average abilities socially (with some quirks thrown in, but who doesn’t have that…)
  • I have (supposedly) a high I.Q.
  • I have a lot of people skills, writing skills, networking skills, etc.

However, I also need a lot of sleep. My son asked a really good question of me one time when he said, “But if you work out, will you eventually work through the fatigue and build up more resistance and be able to sleep less?”  I wish this were the case. I’ve been dealing with the fatigue for twenty years now. Sometimes I can do more than others. Somehow it seems tied to my anxiety. I can walk 3-5 miles several days a week and I’m just fine. If I try to up the amount of just about anything I do, though, and I keep pushing it, my ability to endure doesn’t increase.  Instead, my body “crashes.” The most common thing that happens in that case is that I end up sleeping for about 30 hours, and you couldn’t wake me up if you wanted to or if I wanted to. If there was a fire in the building and someone didn’t carry me out or lead me by the hand, I’d probably die. It’s just a fact, not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.

When my son (now 17 years old) was an infant, I experienced extreme sleep deprivation. I was put on anti-depressants after that, and changed my diet quite a bit (I went gluten-free before he was born) and slowly gained more stamina. When my daughter was born four years later, I was doing a lot better, but it wasn’t hard to tell that I didn’t have the stamina that other moms had. I either felt like I needed to go to bed around 6pm, or I felt “wired” like I just needed a few hours to myself after everyone else was asleep. I was also so tired that I would forget to eat enough during the day, so just before bed I’d be shoveling in food during a time when I didn’t need to worry if everyone else was getting enough.

I didn’t take my kids many places, compared to the the other moms we knew in the graduate student family housing where we lived. If I started to think, “hey, maybe I am normal….” I’d have either friends or random strangers ask me if I was okay. The general consensus of the other moms was that I always seemed more tired than other moms. I supposed that, coming from other moms of small children, that was saying something.

I think that, more than anything, the way my mind will just “turn off” is the scariest symptom I have. I look normal (I think) when it happens, but if people try to talk to me, I can’t speak back. It can take a lot of effort to remember what is going on around me.

I think the mind turning off started towards the end of my marriage. I don’t mean to be negative towards my ex-husband, who has made a lot of progress and is a good dad and provider and (thankfully) remarried several years ago. He was in graduate school, trying to finish a PhD., and at least three or four years before that had just gotten tired of my anxiety issues. I had had several doctors and therapists tell me that I needed more time to relax, or things would get worse. He didn’t like that because he wasn’t sure how we’d accomplish it. He often took the kids to school, took them to the grocery store with him, or to visit his parents. But towards the end of the marriage and during the divorce, I could be completely wiped out, and he’d just leave. My kids watched a lot of t.v. and movies. More and more I had difficulties sleeping, no matter how tired I was. I felt like a zombie. I wanted to talk about other things we could do, maybe talk to people at church for ideas, and I was seeing a psychiatrist at a Post-Partum Clinic who after a year or two had me transfer to the Anxiety Clinic.

There was a lot more to it, but probably not worth sharing. I asked him if maybe the kids and I could go live with his parents, but he didn’t want that. My psychiatrist there (and the ones where I’ve lived since) said that I already had PTSD at that point, but that my marriage had made it a lot worse. The anxiety seems to have started when I was about 9 or 10 years old. It’s a very long story how I figured out that part.