Precieved vs Real

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with extremely challenging PTSD symptoms. I have learned how to manage the everyday symptoms that just come with living with this mental health condition by employing a whole lot of tools from my self-care tool-box.

But since the attempted break-in of my home (read about it here: Don’t Open That Door )I have experienced an increase in some very distressing symptoms including; fear, panic, extreme hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. All of these leave me exhausted, a bit confused, and rather lost at the moment.

So what is happening? Right after the perpetrator was arrested, I felt like I did what I needed to do for my body. I stayed present, I let myself shake, move, sit, shudder. Whatever my body needed to do right after the event, I honored that. I walked outside in the neighborhood so I knew I was safe and that this was My space, not some random thief’s space. I didn’t alter my routine as far as daily living. 

I spoke about the incident with family, friends, neighbors, my acupuncturist, and my therapist. I sought support, and even though this happened in the bright sunshine of the morning, we installed four new security lights. Importantly, I understood how random this was and that I was safe in my house.

About a week after the attempted break-in something felt amiss. I began to have hellacious, screaming nightmares every night. The same nightmare every night; sometimes multiple nightmares in one night. My anxiety is increasing and I notice I’ve become even more hyper-vigilant coupled with full-blown panic attacks or crippling fear.

I began to keep myself tuned in to the part of the house where he tried to break-in and my eating has become a bit disordered. Also, the comforting settling noises of my house have now become a constant ask of, “what was that noise?” These are huge, uncomfortable, and exhausting symptoms. I was totally caught off-guard by them and I could not figure out why after being so purposeful in getting good, solid support after the event that this was happening.

My therapist has been working with me to catch myself with my increasing avoidance behaviors. She is trying to encourage me to take back the parts of my house I’m now avoiding. We’re working on new sleep tools and she is working hard on having me acknowledge the fear, accepting it, hearing it, thanking it, and letting it know we are safe. Good, good things that are helping me find some control, self-compassion, and grounding.

Yesterday I was speaking with another survivor who had similar pervasive trauma like I did. She suggested that I have lived with the perceived threat of my perpetrators coming to hurt me (or insert threat here) for decades and that this attempted break-in with the drama and the intensity around it was indeed a real threat to my safety.

This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Real vs Perceived! It made absolute sense in my mind.

Most people would be upset and a bit traumatized by confronting a person actively trying to break into their house. For me, it had activated all the times in my past that I had felt scared, unsafe, violated, and feared for my life. Days after the event, I spoke with a woman who lived in the senior-living apartment building where he broke-in and vandalized before he came to our house. When  I heard how violent he was, and that he was indeed trying to find a place to hide, in my mind he became even more dangerous to me. A real threat in real life.

I know logically that this person will not be coming back to my house. I know that this was random and not personal, and I know that this triggered an avalanche of PTSD symptoms that had laid dormant for a long time.

All these things are true, and I will find my way back to the middle. But for right now-after all these years of learning and repeating that I’m safe and that my fear was because of a perceived threat, I have now (again) in my life felt the fear of a real threat. This may be a small part of the healing process of the intrusion, but to me it’s an explanation and a jumping-off point for understanding how my mind is working and why I am, again,  working through the oh-so-tangled web of PTSD.

Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Hello! Where Were You?

Hello! Where have you been?

That’s a question that I have asked myself many times the past seven months. Just like most people, my life changed dramatically during the quarantine, the unrest in the spring, and the continuing effects of the pandemic. One of the biggest questions (and there were many) I had asked myself during this time was, why did I stop writing? For over five years, writing has been my link to sanity, and connection; a critical part of my healing journey.

I write under a pen name, which at the beginning was to protect me, my family, and my perpetrators. That was the safest way I could share my story. My kids always said my pen name and my real name were the worst kept secrets, especially when my books began to sell and I was doing more and more local speaking. I love my pen name-Alexis is very much who I am. I don’t hide behind the name, I love that name~it wasn’t a random choice; there is great meaning behind it for me. I believe when quarantine hit our family and all the implications of what could happen to my husband if he caught COVID that fear led me to a full stop. I didn’t want anything to do with Alexis or writing.

That period of time was quite difficult. All the tools and distractions I used to manage my PTSD was suddenly gone. The stress of not knowing how to learn new tools as well as the hypervigilance of paying attention to the unfolding science took its toll. My extreme extraverted self needed to find a way to hunker down, settle in, and get some help. Apparently, my writing needed a quarantine too.  

I live in the Twin Cities, MN. In the spring, after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and unrest, I knew that I had to learn what it meant to be anti-racist. I have 14 nieces and nephews who are multi-racial. I thought I had it figured out, but I didn’t.

Between COVID and the unrest this Spring, I have had many uncomfortable conversations with people who are close to me. I have always been a person who gave others the space to be just who they were, without much judgment. That no longer serves me in this changing world. So what do I do with that information? I’m not sure! It’s a many-layered challenge and not something that comes with an easy answer. 

Then, despite my diligence-I got COVID-19! I was very sick for one month and then it took another couple of weeks to actually begin to feel like the illness was behind me and I could trust I was getting better. 

So a lot has happened existentially and physically to me in the last seven months. But where was I? Well, I believe I was right here. At least in spirit. 

I am very involved in a non-profit organization called EmpowerSurvivors.  http://www.empowersurvivors.net/ EmpowerSurvivors is a peer-led support organization for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Since the pandemic and ensuing quarantine guidelines, we began to offer on-line support. Which has been fabulous. Because now, through Zoom survivors from all over the U.S. and the world can participate in peer-led support groups and classes. It’s been wonderful!

I’ve also been writing. Well, that comment is a bit of a stretch. I have a story in my head that has its first lines and the very last line with no middle. To me, that is fascinating as I know the story will unfurl and find a way to my blog for all of you to read.

I have also been learning new ways to cope. Not being able to hug, touch hands, and hang out with my friends and kids has been lonely and excruciating. It’s been quite a challenge, but this week, I could tell that things are starting to come together on the self-care end and I’m in more of an acceptance mode.  Just in time for winter to hit MN.

I knew this morning that I was ready to come back to the wonderful WordPress community. I knew that when my fingers were itching to get back to the keyboard, and words were bursting out of me that I am ready to write again.

Where was I? Well, all over the place inside~figuring out where I stand and what is important and how I will move forward as a person in this world. I will continue to use my voice and write about mental health, particularly living with PTSD, and as always there will be a  little bit of poetry sprinkled in along the way.

Thanks for all your fabulous support for the past five years. Without the wonderful community here, I would not have had the courage to come back and say, Hello!

 

 

Sunday Desperation

That dark-haired little girl
wants to run away to the cliffs surrounding the ocean
washing the dirt from her feet and hands
watching as the dirt bubbles to the surface
emptying the soot from the bottom of the boxes

She wants to be free
free to see the stars, hear the crickets
smell the ocean waves
and listen to the call of the owl and
the songs of the loons

But she’s bent over holding herself in a ball
The pain in her chest, her heart, her biceps
and the hollowness of her soul
writhes in fuzzy fear and loneliness

She’s trying to grab a hand
a metaphorical lifeline
that provides the hope that this walk will not be alone

It’s not dead girl walking
it’s tiger slayer trying, once again
to navigate the world where her past
doesn’t define her

Fear keeps her from asking
the skeleton hands of the past in for tea

Can she ask them in
Can she ask them why they crawl up her spine
and try to pull her down the rope of the past
Can she ask them to release her – to set her free
Does she set them free with a thank you or a f**k you or both

She doesn’t want to fight them anymore ~ She’s tired
She wants to set them on a raft and send them down the river
free
She wants to set both self-doubt, and fear on a leaf
and watch them take flight with the wind
free
Or maybe put it all in a balloon and set it alight
to become stardust

And when that’s done
she’ll sit for a while
breathe, say thank you ~ and rest
free

©Alexis Rose

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

It’s Okay; You’re Okay!

It’s okay to just be in the moment
of love, acceptance respect, and friendship

It’s okay to let yourself feel
love, acceptance, respect, and friendship

It’s okay to give
love, acceptance, respect, and friendship

You’re okay and worthy
of being heard, being seen, being loved

The squeeze of a friend’s hand
That reassuring knowing

that whatever version of you shows up
it is okay; that you are okay

Being in the moment
Feeling the love, giving love

It’s okay, you’re okay
And the world shines brighter
Because you are in it!

©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      

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      

When Darkness Calls

When the darkness makes it hard to breathe
hope is the involuntary breath I take to live

The call of the loon reaches my heart
the ray’s of the sun heats up my soul
hold on, hold on, have hope, faith, and trust

Encountering obstacles
knowing it’s a moment, it’s sometimes
hold on, have faith, and trust

Digging into emotional reserves
my fascia tight, begging to be stretched
I pull and loosen, standing tall
holding on, trusting

The obstacle seems the same
I’ve been here before
I wonder, have we all?

Knowing that this is the path
It’s okay…it’s fleeting…it’s life…for now
holding hope, having faith, feeling unabashed trust

When the darkness cries at morning light
I close my eyes and deeply breathe
and gently say, hold on, hold on
breathe deep, hold on
©Alexis Rose, Photo by Michael Shannon 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      

 

The Juxtaposition

Breathe in
Breathe out
Surrender and release

Illness led me to rest
But I forgot to breathe

Triggers led me to
grounding techniques
But I forgot to exhale

Life situations led me
to worry
take action
then anxiously wait
exhausted, but whole

Wisdom reminded me this will pass
Just Breathe
Just Be

I
breathed in
breathed out
surrendered and released

The after comes as it always does

I rest confused by the intensity; the crescendo
of symptoms, of noise, and of fear

Fear of the illness
because I know it will strike again
often without warning

It lifts
leaving behind fogginess, relief
fatigue and acceptance

The mindfulness of acceptance
The exhaustion of acceptance

For me, living with PTSD
is the juxtaposition between
illness and health
danger and safety
surrender and release

©Alexis Rose, image source: Pexels.com

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

Even With The Daisy’s and Weeds, It’s Still My Life

I went to the doctor the other day because I was hoping she would tell me I was suffering from some sort of vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem. I made the appointment after some revelations I had in therapy the past few weeks. Not new memories, just a new awareness of how much I minimized, squashed down and refused to process some pretty epic feelings.  In a vague attempt to sidestep working through this, and to find a comfortable state denial, I went to the doctor wanting to hear I would feel better with a regimen of vitamins.

My doctor is fabulous. I’m extremely lucky to have a medical doctor and a therapist who understand the nuances of PTSD. She listened calmly as I anxiously rattled off all the reasons I thought I was sick. She agreed that it’s better to come in and make sure everything is okay, but she really didn’t think anything was wrong. To be sure, she ran the blood tests anyway. Good news, everything came back normal. All my numbers were nicely in the middle range. That was actually a huge relief, although there was a tiny part of me, that wished that everything I was feeling could be resolved with a boost of vitamins each morning.

There is a common expression that explains what it’s like to live with PTSD.  “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.”

One of the questions that people often ask is, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” Or a common statement is, “Just let the past go.” Both of these are said and/or asked without malice.  I understand both the question and the statement. Most trauma survivors understand the intention behind these statements. They are meant to protect the person from suffering and bad memories which can be re-traumatizing. Also to remind survivors that it is okay to live in the present moment.

Going through trauma therapy, we work very hard to understand our symptoms so we can live in the present. We often have safety plans, distress tolerance tools, and grounding techniques that bring us back to the here-and-now. We learn to hear the birds singing, children playing, feel our feet on the ground, and though we may not feel safe, we begin to understand that we are safe, and no one can hurt us (like that) again.

We are empowered by the fact that we are survivors and celebrate resilience. And yet, with all that knowledge, and practice, and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, PTSD has skeleton hands that grab you and pull you into the past. It is the nature of the illness.

When I’m asked, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” I say to myself, and sometimes to the person (depending on my mood), “How would you feel if you had big swatches of your life missing?” I’m not talking about little memories of places, or people that come and go, I’m talking sometimes years and years, blacked out. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you are alive because you are here, but you have no real congruent memories to make sense of yourself, your wholeness as a person. And, often when you do have flashes of the past, your emotions,  feelings, and a very protective mind stop you from remembering.

My mind wouldn’t let me repress my memories any longer. I knew intuitively that I needed to know my past. I needed a timeline of my life. I didn’t want darkness any longer. I wanted to live, not just survive.  I understood the truth would be painful. Traumatic memories are painful. But for me, in order to get some control over some of my most severe symptoms I needed to uncover my past, my truth.

It was hard, excruciatingly painful at times, but worth it! I still have symptoms, but now I can name them. And it turns out that I also have some feelings that I wasn’t ready to process before now. I understand where they come from, and why they are happening. I feel confident in the tools I’ve acquired and know I will be able to move through the current waves.

But in all honesty,  I took some time after I went to the doctor and asked myself, “Are You sure you want to delve into these feelings and emotions?  To poke around healing the inner child? And I say back, to myself with  love and affection (and a dash of denial), “Yes, I do want to do this work, and remember, because, Whether it Daisy’s or Weeds it’s still my life.”

 

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