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?)

 

 

A week of cat hospice


Our cat died on October 26, 2015.

A week before Russell left us, he began a new phase of life.

His week  of hospice wasn’t a bad life. It was an odd mirror of his normal routines. Instead of making his way through his usual day, we simply carried him.

Russell Scot Fry adopted us in 2001 and was fully grown when we became family. Since 2008, Russell lived a fairly healthy life for an FIV positive cat. He’d even disappeared for 5 weeks once, during which time he went from a 20 pound Big Boy to a 14 pound, frightened little guy. He was a fighter and we nursed him back to health. Years later, hypotension, kidney disease meds were a daily fact of twice a day life.

He put up with it with relative equanimity – wriggling and hating it – but never holding a grudge. I finally figured out how to powderize the pills well enough for him to eat them in his food. Hiding them un-pulverized always meant a licked-clean pill rolling around on the bottom of his bowl.

We didn’t bother with the daily pills once he stopped eating and drinking.

This enormous, loud, handsome family member changed. Since I work from home, I was on daily cat duty. A visit to the big water pitcher we left on the hearth in the morning was cause for celebration. On the rare days he’d drink, I’d call my husband over and we’d clasp hands like our little one just took his first steps.

More often than not, he’d heave the water up soon after, but that became part of the day. I’d mop the mess and carry him to his cushy spot on the loveseat. Russell probably didn’t care, but it made me feel like I was doing something by fluffing before tucking him in.

When my husband would leave for work every day, he’d take a few minutes with Daddy’s Cat to explain that he didn’t have to hang out waiting for him to get home in case he decided it was time to go. He wanted to make sure Russell didn’t feel the pressure to keep going once it was no longer time.

During the day, I’d check in on him curled up in what became his afghan, his smelly afghan. A light hand on his flank just to see if he was still breathing. He’d look up at me like ‘whu? yeah, Mom. still here. zzzzz…’

He perked up when we’d take him outside. Before FIV, he was an indoor-outdoor adventure cat. Big game hunter. King of the neighborhood. Cock of the walk. Scourge of squirrels and bunnies everywhere. Outside was the magical place and he knew how to work it. Smart cat learned that if he checked in with us every once in a while, he could stay outside longer.

It made him so happy that getting carried outside became a regular event. On the grass and along the garden verges, he was once again Jungle Cat. Rubbing up against the yucca was cause for near delirium.

He crafted a bit of a routine, always ending up in the same corner by the base of the bay window. Sunny, perfect view of hid kingdom and just hidden enough. Russell kept an eye on things from there.

Routine was important to Russell. Mornings, downstairs for breakfast and evenings, upstairs for tv time until it was time for bed. At bedtime, always according to Russell’s clock, he herded us into our room, and hopped up on the bed into his spot. He would stand there, surfing the covers while I straightened the bedclothes. I like smooth sheets and Russell got very good about rolling with my tugs and tucks.

When going up and down the stairs got to be too much, I carried him. But, he was always able to get up on the bed himself.

There was a glorious nip in the air that late October. Russell’s greatest cat-passion was being on his cushion in front of the fire and the chill made a fire a delight. Truthfully, though, we would have cranked up the air conditioning and built a fire if it had occurred to us. We are those kind of cat parents. His cushion in front of the fire was always there. Always ready just in case.

One week after going into home hospice, I called our vet to check in. She was so caring and kind. She gave us some of the best advice and I’d like to share it. We all knew that it was only a matter of time. The one-day-at-a-time aim was to keep him comfortable and give him a good life. The one thing that could not be allowed to happen was for him to suffer.

All loving pet parents understand this. Never allow your pet to suffer. But, how do you know? Everyone offers the platitude “You’re cat will let you know when it’s time.” I find that to be specious bullshit. Nothing wants to die. Not a cat, dog or human. Your cat is not going to look at you with the expression that says “Now, please.” The best you can do is guess and then live with it.

Here’s our vets advice. Pick the day before the day it’s time. By the time it’s ‘time’, it’s too late. Your pet is suffering. So, we did. We called her that Monday morning to check in. We talked. We decided that that evening would be it.

Russell had a brilliant last day. Tucked into his afghan. Being Jungle Cat. Melting in front of the fire on his cushion.

It took 2 shots. One to relax him and one to make his heart stop. He died on his cushion in front of the fire.

My husband dug a hole in the garden in his corner – the spot he’d picked out. Just hidden enough and just sunny enough. Where he can always be Jungle Cat.12189264_10207967875864664_974061828700583590_o

To Tai Chi or not to Tai Chi – getting over myself


It takes me a while to figure out how to incorporate new things into my life. My typical practice is to muddle along with an idea wrapped in frustration until I have an aha that reflects how simple the thing really is. Yes, I try my damnedest to complicate things.
 
I’ve been taking tai chi for about 5 months now and have enough body memory to attempt a session at home but I have been unable to wrap my mind around the logistics. Where? When? Is anyone watching? Music? Silence? Will I do enough? Will I do it right? Will I get bored?
 
Where? In the front room.
When? Whenever I find the lull I seek.
Is anyone watching? Probably Ron Scot Fry, but he thinks that my movements are pretty.
Music or Silence? Yes.
Will I do enough? Yes.
Will I do it right? Yes.
Will I get bored? No.
 
This last question is the crux for me. I used to get bored, bored, bored training for my marathons. Last week, Sifu Kevin explained that tai chi is never boring. Today, I agree. There’s a wu chi space that happens after monkey brain stops flinging poo for a nanosecond. I’ve experienced it in class but never doing tai chi alone.
 
Sweet.

My good cry – Meh

If a mental breakdown wants my attention, it should request an appointment.


Beware what you wish for.

I spent much of the weekend aware there was a straw ready to break my back and send me into hysterics. It was out there somewhere, lurking, ready to drag me under. To catch me unaware. Not actively seeking it but suspicious. Would it nail me at the photo shoot on Saturday? Or thrifting with my BFF? Or … what? Show yourself, coward!

The insidious straw (see my Blog from a couple days ago) pounced from the e-glow of the daily news. Lalala-lah. I’m curled up on the sofa reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on my iPad – we subscribe but don’t get the physical paper any more – which is it’s own story. The headline should have read: “Susan! Run! This is THE Straw”. But, no.

This undated rendered image provided by Activision shows canine star, Riley. "Call of Duty: Ghosts" isn't due until November 2013, but Riley has already become the breakout star of the military shoot-'em-up. After footage released earlier this year revealed that "Ghosts" would feature a four-legged soldier, the Internet uniformly wagged its tail in anticipation. (AP Photo/Activision)

A war veteran bomb-sniffing dog needs emergency medical care and there are no vet (pun not intended) benefits for repatriated canines. Bonus: She’s also suffering from PTSD. I immediately teared up. My brain started spinning. Injustice. Hurt. Anger. A deep need to do something about this situation and an inability to do anything.

Heartwrenching sobs later. I’ve been rude to my husband. I’ve cried for myself and everything and everyone and all the things that have ever happened in my life and everyone elses. It lasted for about 4 1/2 minutes – including the time it took to indignantly drag my sorry butt upstairs and away from the world. (Unless you ask my husband, who will swear it lasted about 3 days)

WTF?

A good cry used to lay me out. Not that I looked forward to it, but I could at least count on a familiar process.

Again, I feel gypped. Only, this time, I’m still wary as well. Will I craft a self-fulfilling prophecy? Will I worry myself into a mental and physical breakdown? This is so tiring.

Whatevs.

I know, I know… what about the dog? She is living with a wonderful young man – the guy who brought her home with him from Iraq – and she’s getting the help she needs.

Me, I’m moving on. I have a full schedule of stuff. If a mental breakdown wants my attention, it should request an appointment.

Have a good one.

Significantly,

Susan

I want to want a good cry

A good, cathartic cry might be just the wonderful storm that leaves the garden refreshed and ready for planting.


I’m mystified. I’ve assiduously accumulated plenty of worthy excuses to have a heart-wrenching sob. Not to brag, but I am an expert at tallying emotionally charged hoo-hah – storing it – nurturing it – and the moment that I can get away with it, having a total melt-down.

crying girlI feel gypped.

You tell me. Here’s my cherished, sharing-way-too-much information tally…

  1. A few days ago, I read the suicide letter of a friend.
  2. A few months ago, I suffered the worst and longest PTSD episode in years. The trigger is still dancing around the peripheries of my life.
  3. My Mom died last Thanksgiving and I couldn’t get out to the west coast in time to say goodbye.
  4. We closed Shakespeare in the Park about a week ago. We work all year to put on this show for a couple thousand people. It’s a massive undertaking fraught with success, failure, terror, financial ruin, and a stupendous show.
  5. My physical health is for crap and I’m having serious angst about taking care of myself. As if I don’t deserve it slash don’t see the point.
  6. And whatever is behind door number 3 where the grand prize waits just for me.

Yadda, yadda, blah, yadda, blah, etc… you get it.

Are my meds working? Is the mindfulness meditation working? What the heck?

Maybe I’ll get around to it later. Perhaps there will be some sort of straw on my camel-like back. The kind of non-event that makes it impossible to explain why one is sobbing uncontrollably. “They only had yellow widgets in stock!” Guaranteed to earn puzzled looks and a dawning suspicion that I do actually need an Ativan prescription and some serious attitude adjustment.

All kidding aside (right, let’s see if that happens) I do feel a suspicious lump in my throat. A good, cathartic cry might be just the wonderful storm that leaves the garden refreshed and ready for planting. But, for today, I’m dry-eyed and chugging along. There’s good stuff happening. I love and am loved. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Significantly,

Susan