So what’s the message I’m trying to convey…

I’m preparing to give a presentation next week. I was hired to talk about living with PTSD. When I asked for what specific talking points they wanted me to cover they gave me three: How I became aware that I had PTSD, How I decided to write books about it, and How I’ve moved forward in my life with the PTSD.

This is a great jumping off point, and I’m glad they had some specific ideas of what they would like the audience to hear. As I began to prepare for the talk, outlining what I wanted to say, I sat back and asked myself, what message am I really trying to convey?

I am clear about why I write and speak. I’m passionate about bringing awareness to, and to help end the stigma of living with a mental illness. But that seemed like the broad stroke message to me. I’m trying to figure out, what’s the message within that broad stroke.

I’m not an expert on PTSD. I have it, I live with it, I pay attention to it, but I don’t know the latest research. So with that in my mind, what do I want the audience to think about as they are driving home from the presentation.

As I find myself getting involved in more opportunities where I’m in a position of speaking my truth, writing openly and honestly about living with PTSD, and trying to live a more authentic life, I’m struck by the notion that I need to control the volume that I want for my voice, and how I want to represent myself within the ever-growing community of mental health public speakers.

I have had a huge learning curve and learned a lot since I emerged from the shadows. I know what I will and won’t do as far as speaking engagements, book signings, writing opportunities, and advocacy work. I let myself use the past two years as a learning experience and rarely turned anything or anyone down. I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities that have come my way, and I’m grateful for the enormous support I’ve received.

I’m comfortable with the volume of my voice right now. I don’t aspire to be the biggest voice in the world of mental health support/advocacy. I do, however, feel that my low, steady volume is what suits me the best. I’m a believer that a ripple is what affects the change. I want to continue to be a ripple.

I have one week to prepare for my presentation. They have hired me for two hours, and I believe I will speak for a total of 1.5 hours, leaving plenty of time for questions at the end.

I believe ultimately my message is, “When you know that someone has a mental illness and they are open to it, ask questions. Have a curiosity for knowledge and people’s experiences. Most importantly lets, keep the conversation going.”

 

 

 

Advertisements

Reflections

Reflections of those we love

shimmer upon the water

bringing comfort and strength

even as they soar beyond this moment.

25

©Alexis Rose, Image source: Pixabay

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

Getting Triggered by the News

I make a conscious effort to try and stay off certain news outlets. It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know whats happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my opinions and have thoughtful conversations.

While I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule.” My symptoms were at their worst. I was in and out flashbacks, my anxiety was almost constant, along with panic, fear, and a complete lack of feeling safe.

The puppy and kitten rule was that I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens. I stayed away from the intense news, was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. I watched lots of comedy. There were times when I broke the rule. I watched a movie with violence, or there were sensationalized cases in the media of abuse, or exploitation that I couldn’t avoid, and I would get triggered.

As I began to manage my symptoms, had more tools, felt some sense of safety and was not living in a constant state of panic, the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.

Recently, there has been a story in my newsfeeds when I check my email or scroll through some media outlets. I have done my best to avoid opening the articles and reading through them. No one around me is talking about it, because in reality, this news story would not be on their radar. It wouldn’t interest them. But because my trauma is sort-of similar to this continuing story, I am on high-alert when I scroll past it. I have a definite curiosity about the details but haven’t read anything besides the headlines.

Until today!

Today when I logged on to check my email, the headline had changed. It caught my attention and I clicked on it and read. Because I haven’t read any other details I was kind of lost in the information, but I got the gist of it. I understood and could relate to what happened to the victim that was speaking out. I felt sick that this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist in the underbelly of our society.

Then I got triggered.

I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was further along in my healing journey and that I would be okay. But PTSD doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this organization had absolutely nothing to do with me. I have never heard of it, and don’t know anything about it. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is destroyed because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.

After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear, and shame.

I closed the computer, went to gentle yoga, then acupuncture, then reached out to my therapist, who helped me understand that today I fought the tiger. Making sure I understood before I left that, not only did I fight the tiger, but that I won. Any shame I was feeling dissipated with that fabulous metaphorical support.

I know I can’t just forget about what I read. I am trying to stay with the feelings, gain perspective, and use my tools to stay grounded. It’s been a difficult day. I’m irritable as I fight the flashbacks, and I’m upset with myself that I read the article. I’m also trying to forgive myself for having a natural curiosity, and an interest in the subject matter because it hits so close to home for me.

Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of look, I’m not making this up!  When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma is so “out of the ordinary” and so unrelatable that it’s extremely rare that I feel validation. It’s part of acceptance and knowing that my truth is validation enough. But that doesn’t come easy, and it ebbs and flows.

Today was validation that I can indeed still be triggered by the news. With this information, I know I need to remember the puppy/kitten rule when it comes to specific topics, take good self-care and keep scrolling.

Resting Between the Waves

I worked extremely hard the past nine years to understand that emotions and feelings come and go. I learned not to run from them, or try and cleave them off as if they were not happening.  I know that feelings and emotions are like waves on the ocean. Some of them are gentle ripples, and some feel as intense as a tsunami. The waves come and the waves go, each breaking on the shore and all are time-limited. 

So much emotion! I feel thankful, happy, I feel stunned. I feel tired, confused, scared and sometimes terrified. I feel a sense of peace, and connectedness to the world around me. I feel hope, and calm. I’m full of anxiety, sadness, doubt, and restlessness. I am up, I am down. I am content. 

I have learned to sit with the emotion. I understand that even the most intense feelings will ebb even though it sometimes feels like they take up all the space in my body, mind, and soul. 

I have found that I became an expert in riding the waves of emotion. In an almost automatic way, I can now say, “Yep, I’m feeling right now, I know it will pass, just sit with it, and it will be okay. I’m okay.” This is a hugely important skill that I had to develop for my health.

Admittedly, there are still times that when I feel the intense emotions begin to rise, I sometimes try for control. I want to balance perfectly and surf to the shore with ease. That’s not life, even the most eloquent and prophetic surfer wipes out. It’s okay, another set of emotional waves will come soon enough.  Sometimes gentle, sometimes stormy, sometimes hardly noticing the fleeting feelings. That’s normal, natural, human nature. 

But what happens between the waves?

That place where the waters are calm and it presents the option to rest.  To Just Be. The place where it’s okay to think, (just think), to let myself be open to opportunities instead of actively seeking them out. To try and not focus on filling time; thinking that if I’m not working on something, or towards something, that I am lazy, or irrelevant.

I’m beginning to learn to intentionally focus on the rest times and give myself a break. To let the wisdom of noticing, understanding impermanence, and to mindfully acknowledge the teachers who walk through my open doors, whatever their form.

Yesterday a friend was reading an article to me. She came to a line that had an incredibly profound effect on me. The line in the article read: When our heads are filled up with too much, too soon, there is no way to just be.  This exactly summed up my struggle with trying to conceptualize the concept of resting between the waves.

With a sense of calm, honoring the lull, with the wind creating a gentle breeze, I can say that at this moment…I feel grateful.

 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

How Are You? “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there.”

Talking about an illness. When we ask someone we know is struggling or living daily with an illness and we ask, “How are you?” Do we really want to know? Are we looking for an answer of, “I’m okay, I’m hanging in there, some days are better than others.” Or do we really want to know?

When we ask, and the person really begins to share how they are feeling, do we tune out, thinking, here we go again, the litany of ailments, or do we try to steer the conversation away with a nod and a change of the subject?

If we are the ones who are dealing with an illness, do we tell people who ask how we’re doing? Or do we give the answer that we assume (but don’t know for sure)  people want to hear?

Lately, this has become a hugely interesting topic for me. Not only because I’m introspectively noticing my own behavior, but because I write and give presentations on what it’s like to live with PTSD.

I’m passionate about writing and speaking to try to end the stigma of living with a mental illness. But, I, too, find myself second-guessing friends, and family when I’m asked, “How are you feeling?

Wow! Well, that was a bit of self-disclosure!

Right now, at this time of year, I may say, “I’m triggered and struggling a bit, but hanging in there and doing okay.” Really, I could be falling apart inside but I either don’t want to go there at the moment (which is sometimes very good distress tolerance tool), or I simply assume the person asking wants that answer.

But am I doing it to also end the conversation, and divert the attention away from me? I might be doing that at times. If that’s the case that would be an old coping mechanism of not letting people in, wearing the mask of I’m okay, and not letting myself be vulnerable.

But is that fair to them? Or me? I don’t require someone to fix me or my problems, just like other people wouldn’t expect me to fix them or their problems. Most of the time, we just want to be heard. If we are honest about how we are feeling, and not feeling shame about it, then that makes for a more authentic conversation. Otherwise, all the non-verbal gobbledygook can be misconstrued as something aimed at us. When really, both people are just trying to move forward after hearing the answer of, “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there.”

One of my besties asked me how I was the other day. I said, ” I’m fine.” I could tell she didn’t believe me. I was probably acting anxious, distracted, or a bit off. I completely shut down that part of the conversation. If I would have been honest and said, “I’m super triggered, I’m anxious, my lizard brain is trying to take over and have me live in a constant state of flashbacks,” she would have responded with great empathy, and our conversation and lunch date would have moved on.

Over the last week, I was extremely honored to be a guest blogger for a site that is bringing awareness to May Mental Health Month. I  was just hired to give a presentation to a group in June, and I spent some time with people who also, gave the answer, “I’m Okay” when clearly they weren’t.

Since my goal, my passion is to keep the conversation going, and my message is, one of the ways to break the stigma mental illness is to ask questions, I am going to be much more honest when a friend or family member asks me how I’m doing. There are days when I may just say, “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there,” but hopefully there will be more days when I’m honest and say, “I’m having a really tough time right now, and I could really use your support.”

How are You?

image source: Pixabay

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

Embers of the Afterglow

Turning around to see
where I had been
I noticed the sun tending to
the embers of the afterglow.
Etching the memory deep
into my mind, spirit, my soul
I walk away, gently inhaling
filling up with strength, and courage
knowing, that this, is a perfect moment.

 

©words and photo: Alexis Rose

 

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

 

 

 

 

My feelings about the Word forgiveness and trauma healing

My caveat: I understand that we all have our own histories and beliefs. These are my personal feelings about the word forgiveness. They are not meant to sway anyone’s way of dealing with their perpetrators or their belief system.

The conversation surrounding the word forgiveness came up again for me last week when I had a meeting with someone who was looking for ways to increase their client base, in an extremely crowded therapeutic community. It was going well until this person became adamant that the only way a client can heal is if they forgive their abusers. When I interjected that I believed that there may be other ways to look at forgiveness, the meeting went downhill and became uncomfortable for both of us. To be honest, I’m not sure how we went from talking marketing strategies to this topic, but it happened.

Forgiveness, what does that really mean in terms of healing? That word can be a hot-button for me and for many people I know that have been through trauma. There was a time I thought if I heard someone say “you can’t fully heal until you forgive your abusers” one more time, I would explode all over them. It sounded trite, and for me, increased the shame storm that was always brewing inside of me.

My perpetrators would never expect forgiveness. Why? They didn’t and still don’t think they did anything wrong. To them, I was an object, not a person.  Some abusers, torturers, and silent watchers do not deserve my forgiveness. In my situation, there is nothing that keeps them accountable. They don’t need or want forgiveness, as they move along to the next person, and their feeling of omnipotence grows. 

I came up with this thought: Forgiveness in healing does not have to be about forgiving my perpetrators. For my mental health and well-being, I changed the word forgiveness, to “understanding.”  The concept may be the same, but for me, it is emotionally less charged. I don’t forgive some of my sadistic perpetrators, but I do understand.

I understand what they did to me, and I understand it wasn’t about me personally. I could have been anyone, and in fact, I was one of many. I have learned to understand it is an absolute fact that I had no control over what happened. I’m learning to let go of the guilt, shame, humiliation, powerlessness, and the hopelessness.  

I have worked hard in therapy to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me. Still, sometimes I  need to be reminded that it wasn’t my fault.

When I first started thinking and verbalizing that  I forgive myself for the grief, shame, or any other emotions, or feelings I had surrounding my past, I would get confused. Was I forgiving myself for being hurt? That didn’t make sense. 

That word, forgiveness was just too super-charged. The concept was getting mixed up with the definition of the word and it was becoming too convoluted in my head.  I needed to have a better understanding what I was forgiving myself for.

I learned to understand, that I forgive myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul. That works for me! I believe that! Sometimes with a lot of reassurance, but, I believe that. Understanding that concept helped me take huge steps in the process of acceptance and healing. Forgiving myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul is a simple concept for me to internalize and accept. 

I have healed enough and understand enough about my past that by now,  I don’t really think about my perpetrators as individual people. If I see them on the news, I hear their names, or someone brings them up, my mind creates more of a concept of who they are/were, not the ugliness of what they did to me.

My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally.  For some, that is what they would define as forgiveness. For me, that is what I define as my mental-health victory!

I understand that we all have our own paths to healing. Our belief systems play a large part in keeping us safe in our mind, body, spirit. I respect the language each person needs to use in coming to terms with their abusers. What matters most, is that survivors learn to accept their past, shed the shame and learn to live (and thrive) in their present.