PTSD Rant from March of 2015

I started this post in March of 2015 but was too freaking messed up to publish it. Reading it over today, it still stands as a testimony of how horrifying it is to be in the throes of a PTSD episode. It’s time to share it.

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Hello my fellow adventurers. I started this post in March of 2015 but was too freaking messed up to publish it. Reading it over today, it still stands as a testimony of how horrifying it is to be in the throes of a PTSD episode. It’s time to share it.

I AM NOT LOOKING FOR SYMPATHY. Truly and seriously. I adore the heartfelt love that prompts such commentary but that’s not why this is finally getting published. I hope that maybe someone will ‘get it’. Maybe this will speak to someone. If it does, tell me that.

I’m not going to update the original post for my 2017 brain. This was written in 2015 as it was happening, so I’m leaving it in the present tense. Emphasis on tense. With a heaping helping of truly fucked up.

Please bear in mind – This is not me any more. This was me on a treacherously rapid trip to the bottom. I’ll tell you about climbing out of the hole in another post. In the meantime, here goes…

March 2015, Milwaukee, WI… Okay, here’s the deal. I have PTSD. I have been a near constant state of trigger for over a week now… more… can’t keep track of time. I cannot take it anymore.

The PTSD is not my fault. That doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty and horribly sorry for every moment that I spend utterly devastated.

I seriously have a hard time remembering when things happen, but Ron tells me that it’s been years since I’ve had this kind of trigger. Where are my tools for dealing with this? Nowhere. Rusty and impossible to find.

I am a victim of the stigma associated with PTSD. Telling anyone puts suspect all my efforts to do good things. If I have a bad day, or am upset about something or mad or think something is wrong, people I work with who know that I have PTSD will ask themselves if my perspective is ‘valid’ or is it just the PTSD talking? I’m not imagining this. It happens.

Doesn’t matter what I accomplish in life, it’s always there. Undermining everything. Making me feel like a fake. Like I’m lying to everyone. That no-one should believe in anything I’m trying to do. Yes, I also stigmatize myself.

Yes, this is screwed up.

CPTSD definitionHere’s my trigger. I grew up in a very violent household. Every day was a threat. Instead of beating me or my little brother, my step father would beat my mother. The bruises around her neck and black eyes were always there. Me? I was a constant source of irritation to him. I threw his shit back at him but it didn’t stop me from being terrified all the time. So, I grew up being a fighter and terrified all the time. One goes with the other. Of course, having my Mother as a punching bag didn’t keep him from trying to kill me. My Mother put me in a foster home to keep it from happening again.

Being afraid for myself is not my trigger. It’s when a violent, unbalanced psychopath threatens someone I love that I loose it. When this asshole threatened to beat up Ron, I tipped. I became that 8 year old failure who couldn’t keep her Mom from being beaten up, who couldn’t keep her little brother from being terrified and who poked the vicious bear with a sharp stick. Making all the horrid things he did all my fault.

This person who is triggering me now is mean and angry and it’s not just me who marvels at how awful he is. There is only one person I know who will defend him – and she vehemently does. Everyone else stands back wondering where the hell he’s coming from with his constant vitriol. There is never a nice thing out of his mouth. I am prone to hyperbole when triggered, but in this case I’m not exaggerating.angry-dark-stare-l

I shared with someone how he was affecting me and they told another person who told him. So, now my messed up mind is terrified that he will increase the level of agitation. That now he knows he can get me – that he can incapacitate me – so he will. This also reinforced the need to keep quiet. Don’t tell so no-one else has that kind of power over me.

How screwed up is that?

So, now. I’m trying to function and am failing on all fronts. My work is for crap. I look at the people I need to be helping and supporting and working with and feel guilty for how badly I’m letting them down. I feel like they have every good reason to give up on me – and assume that they have. Why should they stick with me? They don’t owe me anything. Just the opposite. I owe them everything. I owe everyone everything.

I cannot go a day without sobbing. I cannot sit in a meeting with others associated with this project and look them in the eye. I stare down at the floor and hold my breath and pray for it to be over. I cannot contribute at these meetings.

Ron has had to drop everything and sit with me. He has had to get an emergency ride home in the middle of a workday on this project so that he can pick me up from the floor and sit with me for the rest of the day. I am trying to put all my things together for this project and am failing. Yet, I can’t quit. There’s no one else to do this stuff. Seriously. I’m not martyring myself. There is no one.

I have a friend who has talked me down. I tried to make light but he understood what was going on. I reached out because he also suffers from PTSD and it’s different talking with someone who gets it. Of course, when I say ‘talked’, I mean via email or chat or text. I can’t actually talk out loud with anyone about this – but Ron. Lucky him. Another friend texted with me until Ron could get home. I couldn’t contact him and directly beg for help. She did it without my knowing – which is good.

This person who triggers me is attached to this project. The project that Ron and I are valiantly trying to work on. The project that I keep sabotaging because of my inability to function. The project that Ron keeps loosing more and more valuable time to work on so that he can sit with me. All the hours we have both lost that we could have been doing the work. Now, I can’t tell Ron when I’ve lost it because it’s just not fair to him.

I just want it to be over. This project that should be a joyous, creative, endeavor. I just want it to be over. Most of the people I’m working with are outrageously wonderful. I swear – I’ve never laughed so much at rehearsals. I have sincere admiration for how hard they are trying and how much they are giving. We hug and miss each other between rehearsals. Now I feel like I need to protect them and that I can’t. That this person will show up. That he will hurt them.nvwordleblue

We have our opening coming up in a bit over a week. We’re in crunch time. Too much to do and not enough time or resources. You know – theatre. The person who told the asshole that I have PTSD also told a board that governs a lot of the activities associated with this project. He’s a part of this board. His behavior prompted them to censure him. Oh great. Now this violent jerk with a massive chip on his shoulder about all the abuses he has suffered in life has a specific bone to pick with me.

He will be there opening night and all I can wonder is if he is the kind of person who will show up with a gun and start shooting. My heart will not stop racing.

I had an emergency session with my former therapist and am back on her books. We’re going to tackle the PTSD together. The soonest I can get with her is after all 5 of our shows are over. So, yeah. That’s nice. In the meantime, I’m seriously messed up.

So, I’m outing myself.

I’ve been trying to keep the PTSD a secret but it’s too big for me to deal with. I have no choice but to out myself. It’s so bad that I can’t cover it up any more. I’m backed into a corner. And, I promised Ron that I wouldn’t off myself.

September 2017 Post Script. That was as far as I was able to write 2 plus years ago. No nice neat conclusion. No uplifting ‘and I’ll be okay’ cause I’m a plucky woman’ message to tie it up with a pretty ribbon. That’s not how this works.

Needless to say, I got help. I’m probably at the loveliest mental health place in my whole life right now. And, like I said in the preface, that’s another story.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…


My life is dynamic (no change) and I find myself drawn less and less to ongoing, public reflection (big change). Yet, I feel like there are things I want to – need to – tell you. But… what? How? In what order? Do I need to consult my calendar and outline everything significant so that I can present my life in an understandable, progressive fashion?

Does this ever happen to you? You have this friend whom you rarely see, and when you do get together you start jabbering incoherently but it’s okay because she’s jabbering too and you both just laugh and laugh and everything is non-linear and non-presentational and non-polished and 100% funny, even the ouchy stuff? Yeah.

I get to spend face-to-face time with my BFF every 2 to 4 weeks. Over the years, we’ve developed a shorthand – catch phrases – that help us connect our conversations about what we’ve done, to what we’re doing now, to what we’re planning on doing and all our feelings in between. It’s much like another group of friends I have who do improv. They have a ‘bridge’ phrase that helps when they’ve exhausted a concept and are letting their brains spin the next direction. They say, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.” Think about it. This phrase will work anywhere and every time.

Some of our catch phrases are, “For mental health reasons”, “Because we are 12-year old boys”, “Because we do this for fun”, and “Dolphin free for 20 some years.” Aren’t those wonderful? Perfect for every situation. Our conversations sometimes go like this:

“We went camping and hiked and the puppy had his first camping trip and he loved it and I used to get so scared ducking out of the tent in the dark in the midb5295ca11505688a7478e04308a25227dle of the night to go pee but I never did on this trip.”

“Awesome!”

“For mental health reasons.”

Laughter. Beat. Beat. Chatter!

Bliss.

We’ll go on and on like this for hours, usually while driving around Wisconsin exploring wherever we decided we’re going to explore. It’s exhausting. We love, love, love it. It’s one of the reasons we’re BFF’s. We each have a person who does not require daily check in’s, being constantly in each other’s face, and knowing the most minute details of each other’s lives. Yet, we’re very close. I can tell her anything and vice versa. When we think of it, we do text and share funny or ouchy stuff but rarely will we pick up the phone in between getting together.

I have no idea if this is unusual but it works well for us.

When I started this blog, I was writing to you. I never felt it was just a personal reflection meant for my own edification. It wasn’t a journal. It was a love letter to you.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

Significantly,

Susan

 

You were marching for me


Today is a day that will go down in herstory. 3 million women and honorary women marched around the world to make their voices heard. Our voices. Our outrage and love. Our fears and hopes. Our refusal to allow the horror looming on the horizon to go unchallenged.

Apparently, the world has our back too. They are almost as terrified as we are. Those 3 million people weren’t just here in the United States of America. They were all over the world. Women. All. Over. The. World. Marched. Thank you England, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. But holy mother of god thank you Kosovo. Seriously, Women in Kosovo feel badly for us and wants to stand in solidarity. This war torn country want us to know that they’ve got OUR backs.gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_12x5_1600

Just before I began writing this, I posted on my Facebook page, “I cried so much today and wore out my love button on your brilliant and beautiful posts from the front lines. I am in love with every woman out there who joined hands and carried signs and loved each other. My spirit soared with every glorious moment you shared and my spirit sped to everywhere you were. I am in awe of the truths shouted loudly, clearly and full of passionate intelligence, wit, and force. No-one will ever forget this day. I have my work to do – work that I can do to contribute to the greater good – and I’ll do it. Proudly, fiercely, and with devotion. You are my heroes and I have your back. Now, I need to blow my nose and charge my iPad again. I’ve got work to do.”

(I apparently was so much in love with the word ‘love’ that my composition skills took a back seat.)

So. I’ve opened my internet mouth. What do I do? I started scrolling down and immediately under my post was one of those Facebook things urging you to pimp your business page. See, I have another page. It’s not a business but Facebook doesn’t get that. Anyway, the only things in the box were the name of my page, the cover photo and the page description. It’s the description that slammed me. It said…

I write.

That’s what I do. That’s what I can do.

I’m a writer.

I write about my journey. I’ve been told that that’s helpful.

So. I’m starting right now.

Why wasn’t I out there marching?

I have friends all across the US who got on planes, buses, cars and trains to get to the front lines. To wear pink pussyhats and carry signs and Be There. Instead, I obsessively watched every moment. I cried. I reveled in every photo and post. I took immense joy from speeches and raps and those fantastic signs. I felt guilty for not being there. Horribly, horribly guilty. And ashamed.

Why wasn’t I out there marching?

I’m not agoraphobic. I’m great one-on-one. I love going to events like the theatre and jam sessions and giving big parties. At the moment, however, I don’t have the ability to handle crowds of potentially angry people. Seriously. Pathologically. I saw how passionately loving and peaceful these 3 million people ended up being. Well before it played out that way, I’d have passed out from fright just before I thought my heart would burst from the adrenaline that pumps through my body when I’m on constant startle reflex. Sadly, this is not hyperbole.

You were marching for me because I couldn’t do it. You marched for everyone who couldn’t do it. There are a number of us. In case there are any who are ashamed to own it, I’m taking this one for the team.

My point? I refuse to be ashamed anymore. This will take some personal work but everything we believe in takes work. This is also work I know how to do. I create things behind the scenes so that everyone in front and in the audience can shine. This is my love for the world in action.

You deserve, in turn, for me not to be ashamed to own it. I’m standing up for every woman and honorary woman who works tirelessly to contribute without marching. Your actions enable me.

I am a powerful and brave woman, responsible for my own destiny. I take chances and both soar and fail spectacularly. I know this.

So, why couldn’t I march?

I also have PTSD and have been living triggered for almost 2 years now. If you don’t know what that means, let me give you a shortcut. Imagine walking through a Halloween haunted house and discovering that they are all real and you can’t get out. That’s what it feels like.

Last August, I began a Hail Mary effort to make the horror stop. The woman – of course, it’s a woman – who is helping drag me kicking and screaming up for air has performed miracles. This is an agonizing and funny-not-funny story in itself. I will brave the telling another time.

When working on PTSD (and just about anything like this), shame is a frequent roommate. It’s not unusual for even the most enlightened people (cough, cough…).  I have to fight the shame and self-recrimination along with fighting the PTSD. And, I have to not be afraid to admit it. It’s such a rude condition, too. Can’t I just have the one thing to deal with without it imposing these pissy complications? Whinge, Whinge, Wink.

I’m no longer constantly triggered. It’s been about 3 weeks. I am like a toddler who falls down a lot but can sometimes giggle about it because I fall on my padded tushy and occasionally miss hitting my head on the living room coffee table.

I’m no longer living in crisis. May I express here and now what a mind-blowing thing this is? In the process of going from 100 to 5mph, I’ve discovered that my day-to-day stress management skills are a little atrophied. I don’t need those super-powered survival skills that my brain has been focused on every day. So, she’s also teaching me how to deal with the whole spectrum from miffed to ripping mad. It’s pretty cool.

Here’s how your marching + my personal brain health work are now combined.

Last night, as I was writing this, I made my first Facebook post about Donald Trump. The afterglow euphoria of this herstoric day was not yet faded and I was getting to work like promised. I am accepting the baton. I feel empowered and supported enough to do so. I stood with you every moment, soaking in your ability to do this. I feel my post was intelligent and had substance. I’m happy I made it.

Is this a big deal? It is for me. I put myself out there and stated what I believe in with no fear of repercussion because the repercussion didn’t matter. I felt I could handle it. It’s also what I do and I love it.

I write.

I bet there will be a day when I can go to a gathering. I fantasize about going with friends and not puking in the car on the way there. Maybe it can be like hountitled_artworkw I learned to love broccoli. It started out covered in stir fry sauce and great gooey things like that. Slowly, there was less and less goo and more veg. Eventually I was like, “Give me the broccoli STAT!” Maybe we can get together for coffee and I find that we accidentally run into more friends at the Colectivo. We have a great and passionate chat about something important. Maybe we all walk to our cars together and stand in the parking lot getting worked up about the thing that’s happening and what we’re going to do about it. All of a sudden, someone’s holding a banner and it won’t phase me a bit. I’ll be like, “And, my banner is going to say (something really brilliant)!”

Thank you for marching for me.

(Did I mention, I love you?)

 

 

Hi, my name is Susan and I have a vacation prejudice


(This was written in November of 2016 and has noodled around since then but here goes)

Date: Monday, November Somethingth Three Days Before My Anniversary and Barely Into our Six Night Visit to Max and Nancy’s Home near Cabo San Lucas, Meburroxico…

My best friend sleeps with a white noise machine. So have I for the last 3 nights. It’s called the ocean. The experience has made such an impact that I wonder if I should pick one up – a machine, not an ocean – when I get home. Probably not. I suspect that there’s no way to replicate this sound. It’s not just the noise. It’s about letting go of the voices in my head.

I’m on an honest to god vacation. From my monkey brain and my fears.

Preconceived Notions and Insecurities…

Back in the late ’80’s, when I (and my shoulder pads) started climbing my peculiar corporate ladder, I had young women co-workers who dreamed of this kind of romantic – romanticized – escape to a seaside paradise. I never shared that wish. I was mystified by how fervently they dreamed of sitting by a pool or by the ocean, getting a tan, drinking margaritas from sun-up to sundown, and shifting from a bikini to a mini-skirt to go out partying all night. I condescendingly – and silently – saw it as a desperate grasp at being beautiful. Holy crap – stick a fork in my eye. B O R E D just considering it.

Of course, the fact that I would never look good – as defined in my 20’s – in a bikini or mini-skirt never entered my condescension. My incredible social awkwardness – which made me want to vomit at the idea of clubbing – never entered my keenly honed sense of distaste. Of course not. Of course, my current physical awkwardness of lugging around an unbalanced body nearly at it’s height in weight but now on 54 year old knees never entered my current trepidation of accepting the gracious invitation that led us here. Well, perhaps a little.

What to do? What to do…

My previous vacations – the Bucket List Biggies – were Europe. Or hiking. Or hiking in Europe. All perfectly brilliant optionhome-banners. Nearly always the kind of vacation where one needed time off between flying home and going back to the office in order to recover from the vacation. I’ve built those requisite days into the end of this vacation but my mellowed brain is instead pondering how to use those bridge days to hang onto this feeling. Should I buy that white noise machine?

Ever since I conceived of ‘vacation’ as something I could do myself, I clung to the belief that the days must be full, comprehensive and thoroughly planned. This current mind and body trip to stay with friends in their stunning home on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico near Cabo San Lucas and just barely north of the Tropic of Cancer isn’t about hanging onto anything except the stream of consciousness that whisks hours away watching the ocean do it’s thing before during and after a couple of sunrises. Plus dips in the infinity pool.

I’m sure there are some physics involved – science with an exceptional tan – that enables that let-it-go synapse I’m experiencing. Or, disables other synapses. Something I do every day with the right medication and something that I do every night in order to sleep at all. If I sleep. Which, I’ve managed to do quite easily – perhaps for the first time in my life – here.

In the social awkwardness category, my anxiety about this getaway was horror at imposing myself for so many days as a guest in someone’s home. Joyful and engaging pre-vacation get-togethers with Max and Nancy led to their kind invitation to visit. I didn’t want to jinx that magical connection by being the guest that would never leave. Our hosts are neat people and our dinners made me feel witty, curious, and relaxed. How in the hell could I keep that up for more than a 2-hour dinner, much less for almost a whole week? I’m so screwed.

Our hosts have pulled out their sure-fire menu of guest experiences and it’s working like magic.

Nancy asked what we wanted to do when we got here. I was clueless. The activities and sights are usually what drives me to visit a particular place. We came here simply because we were invited. Thank goodness she extended the invitation several times – often enough for us to plunge in and say yes. Blessed tenacity.

We contributed a few activity ideas. I wanted to sit and stare at the ocean, read my book and hike. Maybe do some writing. Fry wanted to snorkel, parasail, body surf, ride horses, eat hot peppers, snorkel, drink tequila, hike and snorkel. Nancy crafted the perfect itinerary.

This is the weirdest, freakiest c99fafd9c69abe86c38cd0eb83bd2ed03ombination of heart-palpitating experiences and the calmest atmosphere in which to experience them. Not only did I have no idea what to expect and pre-worry – but I released all control. I pretended to consider and choose among Nancy’s suggestions of what we should do at any given time but really, I just trusted her. She built in plenty of time for me to sit and stare. I have reveled in rolling with anything.

Their magic has worked miracles…

My goodness, my pathological concern about my inability to be enjoyable company for so long and to not be underfoot has evaporated. I don’t feel like I’m imposing.

My goodness. I actually can stare at the ocean for hours and never be bored. The sound of waves crashing outside my screen door – which we keep open all night long – does not drive me bonkers.

My goodness. I can walk into the sea up to my knees and get buffeted around and get scared I’m going to fall and not be able to get up and be okay. I can dunk my head under the water in the pool and swim 2.2 strokes before blowing my air and following the bubbles up 6 inches and be okay.

It’s only been 3 days. I have plenty of time to screw this up.

Friendship…

This extended visit is enabling our friendship vs engendering the horror I anticipate will happen when Nancy and Max realize that I’m a boring fraud. I’ve learned that Nancy and I share a similar criteria for calling someone a friend. It’s an honorific, heavy on the honor, that’s earned through shared experiences and enough of a world-view Venn diagram overlap. I believe we are friends.

I believe that Max and Fry share a similar criteria with each other for considering someone a friend. It consists of proximity and an innate delight in their humanity. That’s all the groundwork needed. Everything else is showing each other the electrical room for their solar paneled home and the website of their artwork and sharing exceptional tequila and a gorgeous sense of adventure. That and their respective devotion to their iPhones are all the Venn diagram overlap required.

Baggage…

For the first time in my memory I managed this trip with carry-on. Perhaps that primed the pump. My ‘must have handy’ bits and bobs have pared down dramatically. I started out with earrings, purse, antacid tablets, credit cards, nail clippers, eyeliner, and a variety of ‘spring into action / take immediate care of whatever catastrophe might strike’ supplies. It’s now my phone for pictures and posting. Lip balm, sunscreen, bottled water and… that’s it. Oh, and the sun hat that Nancy lent me is convenient. Right now, I’m using it for set deco on the table where I’m writing. I don’t need it. It just looks pretty sitting there. Like I’m ready to spring into action. Which I’m not.

I’ve been wearing my bathing suit, sandals and cover up dress in various combinations almost non-stop.img_0054

Living here started out as a dichotomy to my American-expect-smooth-sailing sensibilities. Their beautiful home built from plans they crafted with their architect contrasted with a bumpy, dusty, long, long, long adventure of a drive from the newly paved main road to get to their house. I would get righteously lost if I tried to find my way out.

They live in a town that at first glance looked to me like a bunch of large houses with lots and lots of space in between them and a bar and grill on the corner of the access road. I had an initial but brief Romancing the Stone: “This is a town?” reaction. It’s a town because Nancy and Max are so connected to their neighbors.

Flora and Fauna…

The flora is low, dense, gutsy, unpolished and dusty – except for the potted plants in colorful Mexican pottery that line their patio. The flora is also beautiful once you let yourself love it – which is easy to do as soon as you – meaning me – decide to drop the ‘but it’s not pine trees’ wistfulness. It’s beautiful. Especially the palms. And everything else.

There are no road signs but free-range burros roam around in the afternoons. I just looked up to see a hawk about 15 feet from their wrap-around windows facing the Sea. Flew parallel to the patio and my strategically placed writing table facing the sea.

The fauna are mostly the aforementioned free-range burros. We witnessed a mama protecting her baby from fellow burro marauders yesterday afternoon. It was quite the braying high drama conflict. We’ve also seen free foraging cattle ranging from Guernsey’s to Brahmas grazing at the side of the main roads. Can’t call them herds since it’s usually 2 to 6 of them at a go. Lots and lots of vultures. Great big ones. Hanging on the thermals – the vulture version of surfing – and keeping tabs to see if we’re feeling okay.

By the 3rd day here, it all seems perfectly natural. It’s just what you see and do. Time expands. There’s distance to cover between things. A trip to a waterfall and to a hot spring took all day. It’s a land of ‘you’ve got to want it’ and you do.

Life…

There’s nothing else to do and it’s more than enough. It’s not a compromise. It’s paradise. Not just because of the view but because of what it does to you. You can’t help it. Just try. You will fail. Why? It’s a mystery.

Yeah, you can get used to it but I get the rose-colored impression strife is more about the tribulations outside this world. Every home and life has it’s bumps like trying to figure out international health insurance options. The wind knocking down a glass and breaking the plate underneath it. The flock of birds looking for fresh water every morning who descend en masse to their pool and poop in the water regardless of how many twirly things you hung in the palm tree or the fake crocodile floating in the pool. You know.

Changed…

Thank you, Max and Nancy. You changed my world.

This is about as introspective as I’ve gotten in and for the longest period of time – or 3 days, whichever comes first. I’ve chatted with Fry about observations but they’ve lasted as long as it takes for the next 2 waves to come in.

I’ve changed for the moment. Will I be able to hold onto it when I get home? No. Does it matter? No. Am I ‘all better’? No, but better. Has my world expanded in just 3 days in magnificent ways that I could never have imagined?

Yes.