Getting Triggered by the News

I make a conscious effort to be careful about what I read and listen to on the news.  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 what’s happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my own opinions and have thoughtful conversations.

When my symptoms were at their worst, and I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule,” meaning I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens.  That “rule” helped me minimize being triggered at a time when most of my days were spent experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and fear.

I stayed away from intense news and was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. Most of the time, I watched lots of comedy. Admittedly, there were times when I broke the rule. I sometimes sought out programs with violence that in some way mirrored my own abuse. Or I would pay attention to sensationalized cases in the media that were hard to avoid. Inevitably I would get triggered.

As I began to manage my symptoms and felt some sense of safety 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 was a news story that I had done my best to avoid. When it first came out, people were outraged, and then the news cycle changed. I understand why that happens. There is so much out there every day, and each event is shocking and sad, and sometimes incomprehensible.  But because my trauma is sort-of similar to the aforementioned news story, I was on high alert when I scrolled past it. I had a definite curiosity about the details but hadn’t read anything besides the headlines.

Until the other day!

The other day the headline changed and I knew that the very thing I feared when I first heard the story did, in fact, come true. I knew this person would never be convicted.  I felt sick that even with awareness, this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist.

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 far enough along in my healing journey 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 person had absolutely nothing to do with me. I had never heard of him. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is altered 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 yoga, had lunch with a friend, and remembered that today is a day when I’m fighting the tiger.  Any shame over being triggered dissipated as I repeated my metaphorical mantra of support to myself.

Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of see? I’m not making this up!  When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma seems so “out of the ordinary” that it’s extremely rare that I felt validation. But, my job on my healing journey is knowing that my truth is validation enough.

I suspect there will be other times when I get triggered by the news. The intensity of my response will probably vary depending on what the triggers are, time of year, and the present stressors in my life. I know what to do when the skeleton hands of the past pull at me, and I’m confident that I’ll remember that I will fight the tiger and win.

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

image source:  ashley-batz

Fireworks and PTSD

We are heading into the week of 4th of July.  The holiday lands on a Thursday this year. The firework store billboards are now up, looming huge on the side of the road, and the fireworks-stands seem to pop up out of nowhere in the parking lot of strip malls. Business must be pretty good, because already many, many people are shooting off fireworks and firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

I understand the fun and enjoyment some people may have from setting off fireworks. Although there are many legal fireworks for sale in the state where I live, there is a never-ending supply of both legal and illegal varieties lying in wait for the excited revelers to buy just across our state-line. There you can purchase the big ones, the percussion of which shakes the houses in the neighborhood.

We have become accustomed to many of our local county fairs shooting off a fireworks display at the end of the night before they close down for the day. But over the last few years, people are shooting them off at random times during the day, and the night. Sometimes at midnight or later, we will hear a loud percussive blast coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Just one, loud blast that jolts you from sleep, and can cause great distress for animals, and young children.

Unfortunately for some of our combat veterans, the random fireworks/firecrackers going off can be extremely anxiety provoking and be triggering. For some vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, that string of firecrackers may sound like automatic weapons fire, and the big explosions may sound like the IEDs that threatened so many of their lives.

Flashbacks are a horrible reliving of past traumatic events. When you are setting off these illegal fireworks, chances are there is someone hearing them who are struggling with their combat-related trauma.  If you are unable to resist the urge to set-off those huge explosions, then please consider driving out somewhere that is less populated.

For many dogs, the sounds reverberating off the other houses can often make them disoriented and traumatized.  Their stress level becomes unbearable and some of our animals run away or get lost. There are numerous stories about the many dogs winding up in shelters, especially during the days right before and after the 4th of July.

If this is happening in your neighborhood, try talking to your neighbors who are setting off the big ones, or write them a letter. Often people don’t know that they may be causing harming to some of our vets, scaring our little children, or making our animals shake with fear.

In many neighborhoods where I live, the 4th of July has gone from, the ooh and ahh of fireworks displays at the local parks, to almost every house having their own sunup to sundown fireworks/firecrackers celebrations.

People who suffer from PTSD, (whether it is combat-induced or trauma-related) will try to do what they can to take care of themselves over the next week. Typically, I would escape to the secluded boundary waters canoe area for four days, coming back after the 4th. This year, I need to stay home and care for my dog who is becoming more and more agoraphobic the past few weeks with the increasing lighting of firecrackers at all hours of the day and night.

Please be courteous when setting off your fireworks and firecrackers at your home. Be thoughtful not only of our veterans but also the small children, the elderly, pets, and others who may suffer from illness and startle easily.

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

My mind is tired of mindfulness

There was a moment a couple of weeks ago when I became extremely angry at mindfulness. Extreme stress had taken an emotional and physical toll on my body in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, alarming all the health-care professionals in my life, which in turn alarmed me. At first, I was concerned, scared and confused. Then I got angry!  I heard myself say sarcastically, “Well I’m glad I spent all these years in a mindfulness, yoga and meditation practice. Look where that got me!” Then I laughed at my venomous response to fear, and at the absurdity (and the truth) of those words.

I’ve had a very steady and intentional mindfulness practice for over twenty-five years. I started it years ago when I needed to change the way I was dealing with tremendous stress and hopelessness. I had two very young children at the time and needed to find a way to stay present when all I wanted to do was run away physically, emotionally, and mentally. Twenty-five years ago, mindfulness was not mainstream, but that didn’t matter to me. I quietly sought out teachers, read books, and practiced what I learned. It became a way of life for me and I found in the silence of my struggle it kept me steady and fairly calm.

It isn’t lost on me that I found myself weary and angry the other day towards the very thing that helped me find solace all those years ago.  Sometimes fear will do that.

Over the years as I’ve learned to live and find ways to manage the symptoms of complex PTSD, I found an important part of my healing was learning to live mindfully with intention. At times managing symptoms while living mindfully felt incongruent; a paradox. I wondered if my desire to live a life that was mindful and felt meaningful to me would always be shadowed by how I have to cope day-to-day with my PTSD? Could I find a middle ground? To my surprise, I could find a middle ground and I felt like I was able to carve out a purposeful life that I lived with intention.

Then I experienced what chronic, and pervasive stress can do to one’s health. It was more than just the platitude that stress does terrible things to your body. I am in the throes of living what unrelenting stress has done to my body. Some of it has resolved, but there is still some lingering damage. As I sit in silence and let the thoughts come, I realize that if I had not been practicing all these years, that I may not be here today, or I may be curled up in a corner rocking. I am both on the mend physically, and I’m definitely not in the corner.

I try to honor being awake. The connectedness we have to all things, the impermanence of the moments both perfect and non-perfect, the beauty, the wonder, and the power of being present. I believe that sometimes I will grow weary and tired, and maybe I’ll misdirect my fear towards the very thing that is helping me heal. Perhaps that is also part of the practice of mindfulness.

Photo by Ashley Batz 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      

 

I’m Not Going Down Easy

You can swarm my dreams
You can mimic those long ago days
by the sound of the wind.

The calendar can read the same date
making me look over my shoulder
in shades of black and white.

Year after Year
you can remind me that I never
received the memo that it’s over.
That I was released from twenty years of tyranny.

Go ahead and remind me that I’m still waiting.
That all the IQ points don’t matter
when it comes to stored fear in the body.

You hold me in a grip of fear for Now? Then? When?
You make me want to crawl out of
this anxiety-ridden body and mind
and watch it crumple on the floor.

Fighting the messages, programming designed
to keep the illness safely tucked in the cells
of my body and mind.
Alert, ready for the next time.

You’ll have your way with me.
You’ll make my life uncomfortable
for days and weeks at a time.

Pawing at, and choking as the skeleton hands of the past rise up;
Those bony cold hands gripping tight around my neck.

You make me question all reality
You, you nasty PTSD
You try, and sometimes succeed
at chipping away at my health for days and weeks at a time
leaving me wobbly, unsteady, and questioning.

But
As I’ve told you before, I’m telling you again
with the same resolve as the fiercest warrior
“Go ahead and try to swallow me, you nasty PTSD
I will never go down without a fight.”

The storm will pass
My illness and I will again find a way to cohabitate.
It will lurk quietly; resting, retreated
And I’ll find comfort in the knowledge that when it emerges again
and the cold begins to ooze up my spine
that I’ll never go down easy.

©Alexis Rose, image source: Pexels

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

Okay Universe, I’m listening!

It’s finally Spring and gorgeous where I live. We endured a brutal winter, and a snowstorm in April, but now there is a definite shift and it’s Spring. Yesterday, to celebrate the warmth, I took my dog for a car ride.  Besides noticing all the other dogs smiling with their heads hanging out of their car windows, I took note of all the people out for a walk. As I passed a certain intersection I said aloud, “I hope you’re doing okay!” It was a shout-out to someone I haven’t consciously thought about in quite some time. He is always in my heart, but I haven’t seen or talked to him in over ten years.

This morning, I bounded out of bed and was compelled to go for a walk. Right now, right then, no waiting until after morning coffee or breakfast, I just needed to go for a walk. I grabbed the dog and out the door, we went. As we were rounding the corner a truck stopped on the side of the road. A man got out, and said, “Alexis, is that you?” I was stunned! The person who got out of the truck was the good Samaritan who helped my daughter after she was hit by a car while crossing the street eleven years ago. The person I was thinking about yesterday, the one I sent out the message of,  “I hope you’re doing okay.”

Was this just a bizarre coincidence? Maybe! We both live in the same city so perhaps it was bound to happen. But it hadn’t happened in all these years until this morning.

I’ve had a trying and unsettling two weeks. Feelings and emotions that I had continued to minimize throughout my healing process have found their way to the surface leaving me with a choice. Continue to repress, or begin to honor what is bubbling to the surface. It may sound like an easy decision, but it wasn’t for me.

I knew I wouldn’t be retraumatizing myself or opening old wounds, but I would be revisiting some feelings and emotions at a much deeper level. That’s not a comfortable exercise. The result is more healing, but it’s never easy for me to work through the truth of my past.

Part of healing from PTSD is being able to tell your story as much as you need to and want too. That takes a tremendous amount of trust in the person you are talking too. I have a lot of attachment issues as a result of my trauma. Trust is hard; even with a wonderful therapist.

I kept questioning, why is this happening now? Why am I having these feelings? Why do I want to share my story? I already shared it, processed it, shared it again and processed more. Then I stopped.

I’ve written a couple of posts lately, wondering if  I was shaming myself into silence again. My therapist kept reassuring me that it’s okay. I’ll know if and when I need to go deeper. I didn’t think I would ever want to go deeper. But apparently, my mind and body are ready. My PTSD symptoms have left me feeling terrible and I don’t want to feel this way anymore.

The other day, my therapist asked me, “do you trust me?” I didn’t even hesitate, I answered, “Yes, yes I completely trust you.” She then said,” I was safe, she was safe, the people I know and love are safe, and that it’s okay.”  I believe her. I know the nature of PTSD. Sometimes symptoms will be greater than other times. But, I also know that some of my symptoms will lessen if I do a little more work.

I don’t know why now is the time to work on these emotions and beliefs. But, I do know this: When my daughter got hit by the car, that was the “event” that broke the illusion that I could control my snow-globe world I had created. When I hung up the phone after talking to her in the ambulance, that is when I heard the sound of glass breaking in my head and had the most intense flashback of myself sitting alone at a tiny airport. When I got to the hospital 20 minutes later to be with my daughter, I met the person who ran across four lanes of traffic to help her. When my daughter recovered from her injuries that is when I could no longer repress my past and I began to heal. I have healed a lot, and I live the best life I can with complex PTSD. Yet, some things are bubbling to the surface.

Maybe the why now doesn’t matter. Maybe what matters, is that its time. My body, mind, and spirit are telling me that it will be okay.  That all conspiring universe knew ten years ago, that I was ready and it was time to begin to heal, and I trust that it knows now.

So, Okay Universe, I’m listening!

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

Moon

I believe the moon holds the secrets
of the trees whispering in the night

When I was younger
I knew it held
wishes and dreams, terror and screams

At times I’d look away
when reminded that its fullness
provided excuses for others to inflict pain

As if that rock in the sky
could provide permission; proclaim an edict
that on these nights as the season’s turn…

Then I learned that if it held the secrets in the night
It also held the truth
It’s deep craters holding the truth
safe and protected

Today when I heard the pull of the tides
and felt the expansion of emotions
I looked up at the big rock in the sky
and said
the moon is just the moon, and it is beautiful!

©Alexis Rose, photographer: Shelley Bauer from the collaboration: Of Earth and Sky

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

 

 

The Dance of Acceptance

Here I go again; the dance of acceptance. I have a pattern of every so often “forgetting” that I live with PTSD. I’m not sure if it’s mental gymnastics that I perform with gold medal perfection, or that it’s normal when living with a chronic illness to experience fluidity of acceptance.

I deal with and know how to ride the waves of triggers, and day-to-day symptoms; that is part of my everyday life. I manage that as I manage my household chores.  It isn’t until I come face-to-face in a serious way with something I would like to do, but I’m unable to do because of my current abilities, that I remember that it’s because I have PTSD.

Recently I had to revisit my vocational abilities. That was extremely disappointing. I was the only one surprised by the same results. My family and friends watched me go through the stress inducing exercise knowing what the result would be, but they understood why I felt I had to go through it once again.   I would like to say that now I fully accept what my limitations are,  but I can’t be sure.

Last night, I had a conversation with my friend who takes me deep-woods camping once a year over the 4th of July week. We go into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area where there are few people and no sounds of fireworks. I’m super motivated and excited each year and in my head, I’m a great remote camper. But, the reality is, that I am triggered a lot of the time because of what happened to me in my past. I can work through the triggers, and I absolutely love being in the outdoors, but the PTSD affects my experiences.

As we were talking last night, I asked if we could try a trip where we portage more than once and go deeper into the remote areas. He said, “there is no way we can do that!” He explained whenever we have tried going deeper into the woods I get really triggered. We went on to talk about the other ways my symptoms come out during the camping trips.

Last summer, on a camping trip to the mountains of Colorado, I developed altitude sickness and we had to get off the mountain. We were exhausted by the time we got down to a low enough altitude and we wound up throwing our sleeping bags next to a river and sleeping outside under the stars. Sounds beautiful, and it was. Except for all the flashbacks I was having. I didn’t know if it was because I was tired, crabby, and just wanted to be in a bed, or if it was because of my PTSD. My illness is not my automatic go-to for explanations on why I can’t do something. Part of the dance of acceptance!

I began to have an awareness that what I wanted to experience while taking these trips, was not happening in a positive way for me. I wasn’t saying anything out loud; instead, I was doing a lot of negative self-talk about bucking-up, figuring it out, and stop being such a baby.

It wasn’t until we were talking about it last night, that I really accepted that even with my limitations I can still have a wonderful experience camping. As long as I’m with someone who understands PTSD and how to react (or not react) when I get triggered I can still experience and recognize the fabulously healing reset of being in nature. I can also find meaningful ways to earn a bit of money (and I have) while being mindful and respectful of what is healthy for me.

I have some long-lasting effects from the trauma I endured. Because of the extent of my trauma, I have PTSD. Maybe this is not a forever illness, I don’t know what the future will hold. Most days, I’ve accepted that I’m still going to suffer from symptoms and live with some deficits.

When I lose sight of this, I find myself getting very angry at my PTSD.  When the anger and frustration well up, and starts to boil over, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest, and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life.

And I’m sure, as it seems it has become a pattern, that there will be times that I am going to do the slow dance of acceptance.

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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