Let’s take a few minutes to look at how things have changed for me since I was first diagnosed with PTSD in early 2011. It’s hard to see the progress I’ve made from the perspective of every day life, and every time I hit a rough patch I think, “man, I am NEVER going to get any better.” This, of course, is not true … because when I look back, I can see that I’ve actually come a long way. Thus, it is logical to expect that as I continue along, I will improve even further.
Then I had chest pain every day, and at least once a week or so, it hurt so badly that I wanted to cry. Now I have chest pain once a week, maybe less if I am taking good care of myself, and it is only severe on rare occasions.
Then my blood pressure was through the roof. Now it’s been rock solid stable for at least a whole year.
Then I was so exhausted I needed a nap several afternoons each week, often couldn’t find the strength to even clear up my own dishes after dinner, and absolutely didn’t have the strength to consistently do any kind of physical work or be on any sort of schedule. Now I handle all the meal preparation and cleanup, the housework, the outside chores (30 minutes twice a day pitching hay and dragging hoses and such), and I mostly manage to get it all done. Every so often I am too tired to accomplish some of my tasks and they are left undone or I have to ask for help, and once in awhile I still find myself short of breath or with arms that don’t want to heft the pitchfork, but then I sometimes found myself with arms that didn’t even want to heft bamboo knitting needles. Definitely some big improvements here!
Then going to town to get groceries was enough to wear me right out. Now I can handle a whole day of running errands and still be able to get dinner on the table and cleared away afterwards. I’ll need to take the evening for down time later, but I can do it.
Then I had a lot of trouble sleeping: awake for hours every night, then not able to get out of bed until 10 or 11, and I had nothing even approaching a regular sleep schedule. Now I can stay asleep most nights, or I wake up for a drink of water and a trip to the loo then go back to sleep, and I am almost always awake for the day by just before 9 and out of bed and outside by 9:30 or 10:00. I still have nights where I don’t sleep well, but they are now the exception instead of the rule.
Then I’d have bursts of adrenaline toxicity where I ran like crazy for days, unable to slow down or rest, followed by crashes where I’d sleep and lie about for several days more. Now I occasionally have days where I’m a little ramped up and have more nervous energy than is quite comfortable, but I can burn it off by doing a little extra for a few days then taking it easy for a few days after. It’s no longer a big bright flare followed by a long dark collapse, just a bit of a buzz followed by a bit of noticeable weakness or fatigue.
Yep, that’s a lot of improvement, especially when you consider that for most of 2012 I refused to participate in any treatment of any kind (yes, that was a dumb decision). I did a lot of hard work in the first year, then thought “hey, I am better enough, I can live like this,” and I just stopped my therapy and acupuncture and everything else that was helping me to move forward. I went into a holding pattern, and I actually held not too badly for quite awhile. Then it started piling up on me again and I realized that better does not mean finished doing the work. So I’m back in therapy (and going more frequently than before) and exploring additional healing treatments to see what else might help me move further along this road.
Because better is not the same as finished doing the work.
I am way less volatile than I used to be – my family agree that this has gotten a lot better – but I still have trigger reactions to things that really shouldn’t throw me off kilter and I’d like to get those under control. I am still spending a lot of energy monitoring my spoon count, trying to judge how much I can do before I run out … and I don’t always have a good grasp on my energy levels or how much a planned activity might end up costing me. I do know that when I am overtaxed I can’t cope with the triggers at all, which means that I’ll go off into one of my over-reaction states, boiling with anger (turned inward or outward) that is neither warranted nor helpful. And like I said, I’d like to get that under control.
So, I still have work to do.
It’s not as obvious to me as you might think, which is why I was able to go for a whole year not pursuing any treatment. See, I’m quite used to living with all of this – I spent about six years learning the lessons of ongoing trauma, then another ten unconsciously perfecting the unhealthy coping skills I’d acquired. To me, running hard all the time (avoidance), never acknowledging your own fatigue (more avoidance), losing your temper every so often (flashback / defense) and then picking yourself up and moving on (even more avoidance) … to me, that’s what normal looks like. That’s not what healthy looks like, though, and I’m aiming for healthy now.
PTSD has a far bigger place in my every day world than I’d like it to keep long-term. Some day, I expect, I’ll have this all down to a routine, I’ll intuitively know how much I can do, how much rest I need, and I’ll be in a place where I don’t have to be concerned about trigger reactions popping up out of nowhere on a regular basis.
But in order to get from here to there, I have to pay a whole lot of attention. Until I can get my broken emotional bones stitched back together and the weakened muscles of my soul strengthened again, I need to be extra mindful of each movement. This means that I’ve got to be mindful of my symptoms, checking in with my body all the time to see how I’m feeling. It means planning my weeks to allow buffer time in the schedule in case something knocks me for a bit of an unexpected loop. It means that I really have to pay attention and not run on autopilot. It doesn’t mean I spend all my time remembering the horrors of my past – in fact, I don’t think about that stuff very often. When I do, that’s done consciously and with intention, usually as part of therapy or therapy homework. My main focus is on the now, because I’ve been ignoring the now and reacting to the then … and I’d really like to live my life as it unfolds, and not be stuck in a past that is long gone. The now is quite a wonderful place to be, really … if I can just keep myself anchored here.
Some of the details of how to accomplish this are not yet clear to me, but I do feel like I’m on the right road. I am ready to do the work. I am ready to change.