It’s been several months since I have completed any new work. Months of tears and therapy, of hurt and anger and extreme fear. I found (and still find) myself unable to sit to create. I stare at the paper, my mind harnessed in my sorrow blankie and nothing happens.
I’ve been reading about mourning … A LOT. Mourning isn’t just for death, it’s for any change really. The degree of mourning experienced is generally correlated to the size of the change. Death is a big change, divorce is a big change, moving can be a big change, etc. We all mourn, and we all do it over and over in our lives whether we have placed that word on the experience or not. Despite the level of experience, it still sucks.
I’ve been struggling with PTSD for the past nine years. In that time I have done extensive CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and have managed to bring my anxiety levels from a 10 to a 7.
10 being ‘HOLY SHIT THERE’S A CHAINSAW IN MY GUT’ and 7 being ‘Chainsaws are always running and I’ll probably die at any moment.’
My PTSD was not caused by a chainsaw attack, but I thought those would be adequate for illustration.
7 seems like a much more reasonable number, until you think about the fact that for most people, they don’t even have a blip of being concerned for their own safety during regular day to day life. They sit somewhere at about a 1 all the time. (‘Yes, I’m aware chainsaws exist and can cause grievous physical harm.’) I’ve been LIVING every day at a 7.
While I was living at 7 I couldn’t have told you what it was really like. I couldn’t comprehend living at 1 but could remember living at 10, 7 seemed pretty darned good. It wasn’t.
Being scared all the time does strange things to you. Even the slightest bit of discomfort would push me up into the 8/9 territory. It wasn’t conscious. Every nudge of anxiety, from standing for a long time in the supermarket or music being on too loud or a woman making eyes my husband would push me into fight or flight. Please know, even I was aware this wasn’t rational, this is a reptile brain malfunction.
With PTSD, anxiety levels are so incredibly fucking high that very small things that would normally push someone to a 2 will push someone with PTSD to a 9.
Nine is on the verge of thinking you are going to die … it’s astonishing.
For so many years I thought that it was just how I was made, that I was high strung, that I was weak, that it was fundamental to WHO I AM.
I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my shit together.’
So let me talk a little about my experience of fear. Please don’t think I’ve been running from the chainsaws for the last decade … I’m haven’t, but I was always aware of them on some level. I have wonderful things in my life, a wonderful family, a great job, excellent co-workers, and yet, throughout every single day, the slightest things would cause panic and anxiety to well up in me.
Anxiety and fear are unpleasant, so I found ways to work around it and try to relieve the sensation. Bizarre ways. Superstitions and compulsions. Sometimes they were just as nonsensical as the irrational fears they were soothing (okay, most of the time). Some of them were self-destructive, some of them hurt people around me and some of them were innocuous.
A few months ago I knew I had to make a change. I was hurting and I was hurting my family. I started EMDR treatment (What is EMDR?). I’m not going to go into the details of my treatment yet, that will be another post, but the treatment is why I’m able to write this at all.
At the end of a recent session, my anxiety was at a 3 … THREE. (This is basically an awareness there is a possibility of chainsaws, but it’s unlikely.) It’s moving my anxiety down that ladder to a more reasonable number. This is what allows me to see myself with any kind of clarity. I couldn’t see it before, I didn’t understand it. I was just scared and worried all the time. I understand it better now and I’m healing.
I wanted to write this because I hope maybe someone will stumble across it and see some of themselves in it, or someone they love. Because maybe knowing and understanding something of how destructive poor coping can be will inspire someone to try to get help before they hurt themselves or those they love. Also, I needed to. I needed to put this out there. For the past few years, my creations have been posted online for the consumption of the masses, and while this can’t be framed, I am creating. I’m working hard and I’m getting better.
XOXO – Heather