I keep wondering why, when I’ve made peace with the past (more or less) I’m still having so much trouble with my PTSD symptoms. In a lot of ways, I feel worse now than before – but that might just be because I’m not suppressing everything so thoroughly. I really notice the trouble I have concentrating … which alternates, interestingly enough, with the overwhelming urge to dive into something that will occupy every spare bit of brain power and let me disappear into some project that stops every other thought. I don’t feel like I’m avoiding anything in particular, but boy oh boy, I’m sure successful at taking full-blown mental vacations, so I must be running from something.
Or maybe it’s just such a deeply ingrained habit that I am now more or less hard-wired for it. I used to drown myself in work every day and then in projects on the weekends and evenings. These days, I haven’t got the energy to keep that up, nor the focus required to stay on track for days and weeks on end like I once did … but I can still dive into a knitting design project for hours, so preoccupied that I forget to eat.
And in between obsessive design projects or research or mindless web wanderings or whatever dissociative strategy I happen to choose, I am … scattered. At loose ends. The chest pain is more or less steady once the meds wear off. My body is all wired up: I can be sitting in the recliner, happily knitting away and then notice that my feet are tensed, toes pulled up towards me, muscles tight, for no reason whatsoever. I lie in bed reading and realize that I’m shuffling my legs back and forth. The Prazosin is a huge help with this, though: I am now on 2 mg twice a day plus the 5 mg at night, and the daytime doses really help take the edge off of things. I can tell when it’s worn off, because the chest pain comes back or my feet start tensing up or I get that wired feeling inside. The drug makes me tired, I think … or maybe I just am tired, and with the Prazosin knocking the adrenalin down to manageable levels my body is finally able to hear the fatigue. I don’t know.
I’ve been way too busy in the last month. I need to teach less often (I really wanted to fill in these take on these extra classes because there was nobody else to take them, but it’s far too much for me to do on a regular basis and the future schedule will be less taxing, I’ve already made those arrangements). I can probably handle one weekend a month, maybe two, and that’s it … with day to day life stuff filling in the space between, things like laundry and meals and paperwork and the shop.
It seems like so very little, my list of ‘what I can do in a month’. I feel unworthy, lazy, like I’m not doing enough to contribute to my household, to the world at large, like I’m undeserving of all the care and coddling I seem to need.
Of course, I truly and whole heartedly believe that everyone deserves care (I’m a Canadian, after all). If you have lung cancer due to smoking, like my grandfather did, you still deserve treatment and compassion and gentle care. If you are addicted to something, you need treatment and you should get it. It doesn’t matter why you are unwell, you are unwell and that’s that. Unwell people get help. It’s a basic human right.
But for myself, this nagging little voice tries to say there should be an exception. That other people should be cared for and helped and treated, but me? Not me. I don’t deserve it. I did this to myself, after all, and I should just suck it up, live with the consequences of my bad choices, deal with it. I hear the Mean Girl inside saying “you made your bed, loser, now lie in it and stop whining.”
But of course, however it is that I ended up in this metaphorical bed (and on good days I know that I ended up here through a combination of bad luck, too much pressure, and other people behaving in hurtful ways – some of which were maybe avoidable, some of which were maybe not) … however I got here, I’m here now.
What I need to do now is make peace with the present.
See, when this journey started way back in 2011, I thought that maybe I needed a few weeks of rest, some counseling sessions, a bit of time to recover from all that long ago stress. Once I talked through the old stuff, I’d go back to work and things would be okay. Things would be like they were before. Then a few weeks turned into a few months. Then a few months turned into a few years. And now I see that maybe, where I am is where I’m gonna be for a good long while. Maybe always. This is my baseline now, not where I was before.
This PTSD thing is not a matter of taking a short term leave of absence from regular life while I get my act together, while I go through the old memories, work out the kinks in the thought processes, and then pick up where I left off. And I’ve just now really come to recognize this. This is really hard for me to accept.
See, I figure everyone should see a psychologist when they need to. We all have messy lives, things happen and we need help sorting them out. Assign everyone a therapist, let them go visit as needed throughout their lives for free, and we could avoid a lot of trouble. Perfectly healthy, well-adjusted people can benefit from therapy, so hey, that’s not a big thing. I just needed a bit of help sorting out my old messy stuff. Makes sense.
And therapy has helped, a lot. I’ve made a lot of progress in sorting out the old messes and changing my unhealthy thoughts and behaviours. But it hasn’t been enough. Necessary, yes, but not sufficient.
Now I see a psychiatrist. An actual MD, at a big hospital. Psychiatrists, at least in Canada, do not see just anyone who walks in. You have to be referred to them. They are a specialist, a doctor who treats people who are very unwell. People who are having a bit of trouble adjusting, or who need a bit of help over a rough spot in their life, they see psychologists, and if necessary, their GPs give them antidepressants or Ativan or whatever they might need to get them through. You have to be pretty sick to warrant the attention of the specialist.
And yet the specialist sees me. And gives me medicine, which works. Which tells me something interesting: if the medicine (which interferes with the function of adrenalin) makes me feel better and more relaxed, then clearly, I had too much adrenalin to start with. That’s evidence of a real physical problem. Not imaginary. Serious. Real. Biochemical, in fact.
This is where I am. I have a real problem, a serious one. Not just a crisis (even a delayed one) of messy relationships and grief, of sad and hurtful events that need to be talked over with a compassionate and empathetic listener. Oh, I’ve got all that … but I also have a body that is showing signs of the psychic injury I’ve sustained.
Hi, my name is Lonna, and I have PTSD.
It’s bigger than me, and I can’t control it.
You have no idea how hard that is for me to say. It’s bigger than me, and I can’t control it.
I keep trying to control my PTSD.
If I just try harder, if I just get up off my lazy butt and work a bit more, if I just stop giving in to the fatigue and the dissociation …
But oh, how I want it to work. I want to just make myself better by trying harder.
Wrong answer. I know it. But control sings it’s siren song … if you just try harder, it says, just put a bit more effort into it … Control. That is always the answer!
It isn’t, but oh, how I want it to be.
Look honestly in yourself, girl.
Take a real, true inventory of what life is like right now.
I have a scattered and foggy brain that cannot cope with the same level of input that it used to handle gracefully on autopilot. In fact my foggy brain cannot cope with the same level of input that most healthy adults can handle. I need more sleep than before, a good 8-10 hours, preferably without an alarm clock to wake me in the morning so I can both avoid the startle response and get however much rest my body needs that night. I need medication to help me sleep and to keep me settled throughout the day. I need other people to help me remember things, to be patient when I ask the same question I just asked, to do the jobs I am not able to do because I’m just too tired or can’t focus or just … just … can’t.
And I need to accept that I … just … can’t.
It’s not I don’t want to.
It’s not Someone else can do it today, I don’t feel like it.
It’s not I’m the princess and everyone should just cater to me.
It’s I … just … can’t.
And when I insist and pretend and demand that I can so do whatever I want to do, it always ends badly. I go off the deep end, and everyone around me pays for it. I get angry and frustrated and I cry and stop eating or stop talking or get mean or suicidal or ugly.
PTSD is bigger than me and I can’t control it.
I can’t pretend I’m well.
I can’t do all the things I want to do.
That doesn’t make me a loser.
It makes me someone who isn’t well.
I can take care of myself by going to therapy, taking my medication, and asking for help with every day things when they are too much for me.
I can manage my schedule so that I am not overbooked. Even if that makes the calendar look really empty to someone who does not know what my limits are. I know them. I need to respect them. Even when I don’t like to admit how little I can handle.
I can step back when I feel the anger mounting, and recognize that it’s old anger that needs to be released outside, not at another person or at myself.
I can accept that I need and deserve to be cared for, and that good self-care is the best gift I can give to those I love, because when I take good care of myself, I am easier to be around.
PTSD is bigger than me.
It’s not my fault.
This is just how things are.
Making peace with the present.