Tag Archive | post-traumatic stress disorder

Thank-you symptoms, but I’ve got this!

The past few days during moments of exasperation, I’ve said out loud to myself, “You’re being so weird, just stop it!” In reality, I haven’t been weird, I have been feeling off, and instead of sitting with the feelings, and letting them surf on through, I’ve been running the other way in a grand state of denial.

There is a saying: “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” That saying is a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons my PTSD symptoms sometimes still have a firm chokehold on me. The list can be long depending on the time of year and triggers.

Autumn is beautiful and just started here in the Midwest. Blue skies and Vermillion colored trees often coexist with 70 degrees temperatures. This time of year, from late August until it snows represents trigger, after trigger for me. While I can appreciate the wonderful weather, the long season can be challenging with prolonged symptoms and what can seem like constant symptom management. They don’t just amplify on certain calendar dates, they simmer,  just under my skin in both the Fall and Spring seasons.

There are days when the triggers and symptom management leave me exhausted and feeling like I’m a burden to my family and close friends. I spend most of the time finding ways to work on distress tolerance and grounding when the autumn winds blow.

Lately, I have been able to tolerate some of the triggers that in years past, would send me hiding in the house. I noticed I was able to name what the trigger was without flashbacks or much anxiety. That felt great, and I made sure to acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing journey. But, as the weather has changed and we entered September, my body memories and reptilian mind have been fighting for a seat at the table.

I’m pretty good at accepting, and having compassion for my lizard brain and body responses by telling them, “Thank you for doing what you are meant to do, but we are safe now, and I’ve got this.” Most of the time that works, but sometimes as the skeleton hands of the past slowly edge up my spine and try to pull me down, some deep feelings get stirred up. If I don’t acknowledge the feelings and sit with them even for a short amount of time, they come out sideways. I get emotional, irritable, and I start demanding an impossible perfection from myself. If I’m not careful those feelings can inadvertently push play on the negative self-talk and doubt.

This morning, when I caught myself again saying, “You’re being so weird, just stop it” it made me pause. Instead of running to the next distraction I sat down to reflect, on what was really going on. With reflection, I stopped denying that the change of season is having an effect on me. It’s not me refusing to let go of the past, it’s an internal response to the trauma I survived.

Now that I’ve accepted what is going on, and forgiven myself for how I’ve been feeling, I say to my symptoms, “Thank-you, I see you, and I’ve got this!

PTSD

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      

My PTSD – A Poem

Like so many others who live with PTSD or other chronic illness, people often ask me, “What does it feel like?”

My PTSD 

It doesn’t matter if it’s cold, hot, sunny, snowing  or raining

There is no telling when it’s going to strike.

Are they alive or dead?

Is that pain real or echoes from pain long ago that

Resurface with a memory?

It’s like being held hostage by your mind

Thinking that today would be the day I am free.

I look like everyone else

I know the difference between right and wrong.

Yet in my head, I sometimes can’t remember

The last ten minutes of my life, or what day, year or time it is.

Are those smells real or is that a smell from a place and time

when I was being held against my will.

Am I really hearing the sounds of helicopters, planes, cicadas or birds

Or it that the sound coming from a place that no longer exists and

Should never be talked about?

I want so much to be like everyone else.

So I will keep pulling myself up the rope,

Out of the clutches of PTSD and all the skeleton hands of the past that

Keep trying to pull me down.

I am like everyone else only my job is to live so I can live.

For now, that’s all I can ask of myself if I am going to have a future.

my PTSD

©Alexis Rose, photo: pixabay

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

 

The Woman Sitting in the Dark

Who is that woman sitting in the dark?

A mom, wife, friend

She is a survivor.

A reader, writer, hiker, dreamer

She is struggling.

A hopeful, helpful, optimistic. compassionate light

She is too weary to turn on the lights
or care about the monsters in her dreams.

A woman who works tirelessly to embrace her life
live in the truth, recognize joy. 

Where did she go? 

That’s her, over there, sitting in the dark.

Waiting…just waiting for the light of dawn.

sorrow-699608_960_720

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: Pixabay

Shaming myself into silence?

I have been in a contemplative place lately. I’ve stepped back from a lot of things to organize my thoughts, needs, wants, and realities. Part of it was an intentional rest from years of writing and marketing my books, part of it was because I found myself falling into old patterns of not having good boundaries by not speaking up for myself when it was appropriate. And part of it was because I was trying to figure out how I wanted to continue to use my voice to de-stigmatize living with PTSD.

I have been in a poetic place. It’s been easier for me to express myself in poetry vs journaling style. It’s a way to get at the meat of my feelings. I absolutely love the creativity of poetry. It feeds my soul, it takes me to places where I say to myself, “If I could paint a picture, this is what it would look like.” But, I found that I was holding my feelings at a bit of a distance, and it caused me to pause.

I wondered if I was falling into a place of shaming myself into silence. If I was becoming fearful that some of the messages of  (let go of the past, it happened a long time ago, can’t you just get over it, you can decide to be happyyou don’t look sick) were beginning to seep in, and I was pushing play on my tape of shame that I live with complex PTSD.

I’m not ashamed of my past. I’m not ashamed of my story. It is the truth of what happened in my life, to me. I didn’t choose it; the people in my life made those choices to traumatize me. 

What I find I struggle with, is living with the effects of the trauma. It manifested in ways that affect my life, probably for the rest of my life. I have found the past four years when I began to speak publicly that I am not alone. A lot of people struggle with mental health issues directly related to trauma.

The good thing is that there is a tremendous amount of research being done to help trauma survivors right now. There have been some fantastic treatment options to help alleviate or extinguish symptoms. But, not all symptoms can be extinguished. They can be managed, and quality of life can improve to a level that wasn’t thought possible even five years ago. Some people depending on their symptoms of PTSD can absolutely be cured. Some of us may struggle for many more years to come. 

I had to re-evaluate that if I’m one of the people who have persistent and pervasive symptoms do I stay silent?  Do I watch as I see people struggling, repeating the lines and trying to live up to the many memes of, just do (or think) this and your life will be better? No, I just can’t do that. It goes against my nature because of all the survivors I’ve met along the way. Yes, there is a place for the feel-good memes, but it can shame us into silence if we don’t self-regulate.

I’m the most obnoxiously optimistic person I know. I love affirmations, I love mindfulness, I love yoga, meditation, dharma talks, and I really do get out of bed and say, “Today is a brand new day.” But I also have to make sure I am living with my feet firmly on the ground. When I’m sick, I’m sick. When I have symptoms I need to talk to my support system about them. I do not want to shame myself or watch others feel shamed into silence.

The other day one of my most trusted friends said to me, “You seem to be very calm about everything unless you aren’t telling me what’s really going on inside.” The reality was, I was calm and at the same time, I wasn’t being completely honest about how I felt. I was calm, I was numb! I didn’t realize it until I went home and thought about how I was feeling. Right now, numb is an okay place to be. My brain and body are resting after being very ill, and experiencing a recent trauma.

I will continue to use my voice to bring awareness and help de-stigmatize living with PTSD. I think it’s extremely important to create a community where people can relate instead of hiding and feel ashamed for having an illness. I continue to work on creating boundaries and will keep learning to speak up for myself, and I will not allow myself, to shame myself into becoming silent again. I’m grateful and acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing that I recognized that may be happening and reaffirm my tenacity to stay the course on the long, winding road of healing.

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

Those Days

Those days
when
you know you are
okay
but you don’t feel
okay

those are the hardest
days
to navigate.

Nothing is wrong
but
everything feels
overwhelming
exhausting
scary
unsettled.

Those days
are the hardest
to just breathe.

Just be…
Just be what?
calm?
relaxed?
grounded?
trusting?

How in the present moment
when there is nothing wrong
can
I exist in a state
of uncomfortable
wobbliness?

Because those days happen!

Because that is the nature of my PTSD.
©Alexis Rose, Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya 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

What Would You Suggest?

I have the privilege of presenting to a  Human Services class at a local college in a couple of weeks.  I’m extremely grateful and also honored to be asked to talk to these students, because some of them may become (or already are) professionals in the mental health field. I’m determined to help destigmatize mental illness, particularly PTSD, by speaking and writing openly about living with this disorder.

I’ll be talking about the definition of PTSD, some common symptoms, how I’m able to live a full, and purposeful life, even though I sometimes still struggle with multiple symptoms, resources, etc.

I’m really excited about two topics that I have been asked to address during my presentation.

  • What to say and/or not to say to someone with PTSD (or mental illness)?
  • How professionals can better help people who they work with? 

I definitely have my ideas, but I thought about how wonderfully interactive and positive the blogging community is when it comes to comments. I would love to know how you would answer these questions. Either of the questions.

Your input is greatly appreciated!

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

The Gifts of Writing a Memoir, Happy 3rd Birthday Untangled!

Three years ago today, I anxiously waited for my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph to go live on Amazon. What a wonderful, unexpected and humbling three years this has been.

I took a huge risk by writing and publishing my memoir. My entire life was focused on keeping quiet, not telling, protecting those I loved, or who loved me. It took me a long time to understand that by keeping quiet, I was actually protecting the people who hurt me in my life. Writing Untangled was a way to announce in a really big way, that I will not keep quiet any longer.

I literally went from telling no one but my therapist about my past to throwing my arms up, and saying, okay….what the heck, let’s go for it, and tell everyone at once. My husband and children read the book before it was released to the public, but close friends, acquaintances, and long-lost friends learned the truth of my past when they read the book.  Were there big reactions? You bet there were! Of course, they reacted. The biggest reaction was sadness that they didn’t know what was happening at the time, and that helpless feeling that if they knew, they could have helped. I understand that reaction, I would probably have felt the same way upon hearing of a friend’s brutal past. But, they couldn’t have helped me, and it was imperative to my safety that I kept quiet. I used to feel guilty that I somehow hurt my friend’s feelings that I didn’t share my past, but I’ve learned to let go of that.

In the book, I talk about my life and some of the trauma I experienced.  I write about how I repressed my memories and how I managed to raise a family and live a life where I mistakenly convinced myself, that my hidden past had no effect or impact on my life. The last part of the book is what my healing journey looked like at the time. Untangled isn’t about naming names or the horrific specifics of what happened to me. I don’t feel people, especially those of us who have been through trauma need to read and be triggered by another’s specific tales of horror.

I do, however, explain in detail the feelings that went along with being hurt, traumatized, abandoned, neglected. I don’t shy away from feeling words such as fear, emptiness, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, etc.  One of the most humbling gifts I experience from Untangled is when people read the book, and they find it is relatable. The events that happened to me may not be relatable, but the effects, the feelings, the sense of no-self is something that a lot of people experience, or they know and love someone who has experienced those things.

We all have feelings, but we may not all be able to articulate them, we may doubt or judge our feelings, or experience that lonely feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. I lived with that terrible alone feeling until three years ago. Now, from the feedback from the readers of Untangled, I know that I am not alone. Admittedly, the validation is a bit of a paradox..I’m so relieved to be validated by relatability and so sad to be validated by relatability.

One of the questions I get asked the most is why did I write my memoir?  At first, I was writing as a way to incorporate another healing tool. For me, using the keyboard as a way to write, instead of using paper and pencil, provided a way to get down my feelings, thoughts, and emotions without becoming overwhelmed. I was taught that for some people, using the keyboard was a way to incorporate bi-lateral stimulation. This method provided a way to create a bit of distance from the subject matter I was writing about. The first gift was while writing, I began to discern the difference between the truth vs my truth. For some, they are the same, but for me, being able to say My truth had a profound and healing impact on me.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. I began to notice that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice. What I discovered was that writing actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found, if I read what I wrote out loud to my therapist, that I WAS speaking the truth. The bonus for me as that He didn’t freak out or go away. The gift of Untangled is that people also don’t freak out and run away. The book has been a tool for conversation.

I am frequently asked if I was afraid for my safety when I released the book?  To be honest, I felt a lot of fear for my safety and took as many precautions as I could, but in the end, I just really wanted to share my story. I wanted to share what it looks like to live through unimaginable circumstances for twenty-plus years, with continued threats to stay silent, and still, be determined to be live not just survive.  I knew that this was my truth, and by publishing my story and continue to talk about the effects of trauma and the resulting PTSD that no one could ever take my past, my truth away from me again.

There are so many gifts from Untangled. The gift of writing, the gift of remembering, the gift of a congruent past, the gift of trying to remove the stigma of living with an illness. I wouldn’t have started writing a blog if I hadn’t written my memoir. I was told that I had to start a blog in order to market a book. I never, in my wildest dreams knew the world of connection that awaited me when I wrote my first post. Not only have I connected with survivors and mental health professionals, but I also have connected with poets, authors, thinkers, travelers, photographers, fun-loving lets blog for the heck of it people all over the world. I’m a better person because of all these connections. There are some people I’ve met that have changed my life. I’m grateful every day for my blog.

Even though I released another book last January, I’m not ready to leave Untangled behind. I’m excited every time someone purchases the book, I wish I could personally thank every person. I don’t ever take it for granted. I love getting good reviews on Amazon, I love hearing the feedback. I hope that the readership continues to grow each month.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I know what my goals are…to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. I didn’t realize that sharing my story with so many people would propel the trajectory of my healing in such a profound and sometimes ineffable way. Never does a day go by that I’m not grateful for the experice.

Happy 3rd birthday, and thank you for reading, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

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

Learning the art of saying, “no”

Before I was diagnosed with PTSD, I had been pretty good at saying, “no.” I was working full-time, raising a family, and was extremely busy. If I was invited to an event or asked to join a committee in the evening, it was easy for me to say, “I would love to do (that), but I just can’t fit it into my schedule right now. ” I didn’t feel that I was being rude, or isolating myself, or not participating in society at large. If I wasn’t interested or couldn’t do something,  I said, “no.”

Getting easily overwhelmed, and triggered is one (of many) symptoms that is front and center of my PTSD. I love the idea of going to new restaurants, concerts, plays, monthly writing gatherings, trying new classes, and attending house party celebrations. I’m interested and I’m grateful for the invitations.  I want to say, yes and sometimes I do; but I’ve noticed that I’m having a hard time saying, “thanks for the invitation, but no thank you. Now when I say no, I find myself feeling guilty and anti-social. Those feelings are triggers and old self-destructive messages. I need to be careful that I don’t press play and begin to listen to the tapes of, all the reasons I’m a failure and can’t control this illness.

I’m not sure what changed. My family and friends do not put any pressure to accept or decline invitations. I appreciate that they ask me to participate in events and gatherings. They don’t forget me or assume I’m going to say no.

In the meditation part of a yoga class the other day,  all I could think about (when I wasn’t supposed to be focused on thinking) was how I didn’t want to go to another class later that day. I was afraid I would hurt someone’s feelings if I said, no. Before my illness, I would have said, “no thank you, I already do a yoga class on Tuesday mornings, so I don’t want to do another one in the evening.

Now, I find myself stumbling when asked to do something.  In recent years,  I ‘ve had to cancel some pretty significant commitments, or have had a really hard time coping once I’m at an activity. I have had to leave early, or I have had to say, “I’m really overwhelmed and don’t feel safe.” When that happens, I feel terrible and very disappointed in myself. I feel like a burden to my friends and family and I feel so…mentally ill.

Intimate gatherings and going to familiar places are recipes for social success for me. If I do go to places that have the potential of becoming overwhelming or triggering, I make sure to go with a good support person. I have some really good coping tools that I employ on a regular basis, but sometimes all the tools and good intentions don’t work as well as I hope when my symptoms begin to ramp-up.

I need to relearn how to say, no without feeling guilty or shame. Recently, I said no to an invitation and the person was quite taken aback. I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t participate in that, I’m doing the best I can, and I just can’t do that right now.” She stopped, for a moment, and said, “of course you are.” All was fine as we continued our conversation, but I felt intense shame for saying, the words, “I’m doing the best I can.”

Since that day, I have been watching what invitations I have been accepting, and paying attention to how I feel when I say, no. I’m sure this is all another layer of accepting my PTSD and learning to  live with, not fight against my symptoms, but I find I need to relearn the art of saying, “no.”

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

Guest Post…take a look!

Thank You, Alex, of The Never Give Up Institute https://nevergiveupinstitute.org/ for inviting me to be a guest writer on your blog.

I would love it if you checked out my post, Living with PTSD,  and take the time to follow The Never Give Up Institute’s blog. Alex does amazing work in the Twin Cities, MN area with people who live with chronic illness, cancer, and who are working through their trauma. She is inspiring in her wonderful humanness, and to read her story is to witness a true medical miracle.