I have practiced mindfulness and yoga for close to twenty years now. I have had some fabulous teachers, read wonderful books and have developed some deep-rooted connections. I quietly accepted that I was the weird one, until the practice of mindfulness, meditation and yoga reached mainstream.
My PTSD struck hard nine years ago and has continued to have a huge chokehold on my life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
This past weekend I traveled with my son back to my hometown. I was there for a celebratory event and the mood was light. I was feeling fine when I was inside and socializing with family I hadn’t seen for years. However, when I had to go outside or get in the car to drive anywhere I became nauseous, irritable and panicked. I kept thinking I was carsick. My son kept saying, “you aren’t carsick mom, this is PTSD.
In the moment I couldn’t listen. I just kept ignoring him saying, look at the beautiful trees, or wow did you see that house. I was trying to stay present, as I felt the skeleton hands of my past trying to pull me down. Whenever we passed a town where bad things happened to me, I could feel my skin crawl. If I looked down I knew I could get lost in memory. So I kept looking out the window trying to notice anything but the street signs that had me traveling down bad-memory lane.
I’m trying to convey the absolute difficulty and exhaustion of having to consciously listen for birdsong, notice the clouds, and look at my feet so I know I am firmly planted on the ground. Sometimes I can do that if I feel I’m about to get triggered. Sometimes I do that after having a flashback. I’m not suggesting that I would rather be mired down in symptoms, but there are times I would just like to just rest, and recover without having to go through the process of grounding and acclimatizing to the present moment.
Later, as my son and I were talking, he said, “It must be so exhausting for you!” I asked him what he meant. He said that most people go through the day and don’t notice the trees, their breath, those kinds of things, they just do it or they don’t. They may be stressed but their stress has to do with what’s happening in the here and now. Or nowadays people are learning to “be present” because its the thing to do. He continued, “You spend your time having to fend off symptoms, dealing with daily stress and at the same time trying to stay present so you can have some normalcy in your life.
My son absolutely nailed what daily life is for me. I hadn’t talked about it because I was just living it. This was strictly his observation. I felt validated and seen. I felt I could at least for a moment let the veneer of trying to cope 24/7 down.
It also gave me permission to talk about how exhausting it is for me to practice mindfulness. It gave me permission to grieve the loss of my meditation practice and how my yoga practice had changed so drastically.
It’s all okay because practices change. But what was once something that brought me peace, has now become a tool in my toolbox of coping. That may seem like semantics, but the intention for my practice comes from a different place now.
I’m hoping as my healing journey continues, the exhaustion of staying present will ease a bit. It will come from a place of peace and not a gnarly rope climb out of the past.
Thank you to my wise son for learning about my illness and having the insight to notice and say aloud how sometimes the practice of mindfulness can be exhausting.