FACING THE DARKNESS

I have, at various times in my life, been overcome by the “black dog” of depression. I guess most people face times when they just feel trapped and unable to move forward, but this is even deeper than that. It’s the darkness that falls on you like a weight and leaves you wondering if you can even stand up under the pressure it creates. During one of my worst bouts, I decided I needed more help than I could get from family, faith, and friends, and I went to the local Community Mental Health for help. I’ve never regretted that decision.

I told my therapist that I felt like a black cloud was following me, and that I was always waiting for something else to go wrong. For the first time, someone explained to me that I wasn’t “crazy,” I had PTSD.

I spent several months in therapy confronting the demons in my mind. Then I finally began to climb out of the hole I’d been living in and could finally feel the sun again. Since then, I’ve have not had to return for more therapy, but it has helped just knowing that it was there if I needed it. I’ve learned many tricks for “bumping” myself off the stuck position so I can move forward again: art therapy is one of my life-savers. I also use music therapy, prayer, and talking to a special, non-judgmental friend. I’m fortunate to have these tools available to me. They’re available to you too, if you need them.

THE SAFE PLACE

I attended a conference this week where we were led through a guided meditation to help us learn to cope with PTSD. While we did some basic yoga breathing exercises with the meditation, the guide told us to allow ourselves to go to that place where we felt safe, secure and happy in the past and then to stay there a while, in that memory. I found myself traveling back 40 years to when I owned my first horse, Koko. She was a huge bay mare, 16 hands high, with golden dapples on her sides. She was, I believe, part Tennessee Walker and part draft horse. She was gentle, fun to ride, and she was my best friend. I was surprised at the warmth of the memory I found from that long ago.

As the meditation ended, I found myself quite surprised that this was the memory I most associated with safety and happiness. I would have thought that a more current memory would have come to mind, but as I sat and thought more about it, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had felt safe. When I was riding Koko, no harm could come to me, or at least that’s how I felt.

Those years are long gone now, but it was so pleasurable returning to that memory that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it soon. With PTSD, we don’t often allow ourselves to let down our guard long enough to revive old, happy memories like that. I want to do it more often. I don’t want to lose the memory of that joy and contentment. It made a believer out of me as far as meditation goes. I hope you’ll find a similar memory to revisit soon.

QUIET, PLEASE!

Excessive noise is a trigger for me, sending my PTSD into overdrive. It took a long time for me to realize that loud noise irritated me more than it should have, but I finally was able to see what was happening.   I hate when I start feeling like “something” is about to happen. Loud noises make me feel that way. I need to manage my environment so I can survive, yet this is an on-going problem. The steady drip of the faucet, a barking puppy, the television being on when no one is watching it – all of these things, and many more, make me a nervous wreck.

Managing the environment is one way of reducing the triggers that set my PTSD off. Unfortunately I can’t always have things the way I want and need them to be, but I can make every effort to keep things down to a dull roar! I’ve found that I need to respond quickly when I hear the faucet dripping and make sure it’s fully off. If the puppies are crying, I have to get right up and see what’s wrong so they quiet down. If the television is on and no one is watching it, I turn it off.

I can’t manage everything all the time, but I can make every effort to do what it takes to keep my PTSD under control. Learning to live with PTSD often means making an extra effort to keep things on an even keel. Fortunately, I can do that!

FINDING PEACE AGAIN

How difficult it is to find peace when you live with PTSD. I am not the person I once was, nor do I seem able to be the person I want to be. I don’t like giving PTSD that much control, so I fight. It makes me think of the story the Native American grandfather told his grandson. It was about two wolves fighting within us all the time. One wolf fights to do right. The other wolf fights to do wrong. The grandson asks the grandfather, “Which one will win, Grandfather?” The grandfather replied, “The one you feed!”

I think there is a lot of wisdom in that story. If we feed the wolf of anger within us, it will grow. The problem is, how do we feed the wolf of peace? I think part of the answer to that must be that we actively have to feed the wolf of peace, not just sit back and think if we don’t feed the wolf of anger it will just dry up and blow away. It may not grow much, but it doesn’t seem to shrink either. However, if we take the time to culture the growth of peace within ourselves, there is a favorable pay off, I think.

So, how do we feed the peace wolf? I think we each have to seek the answer to that question as it’s probably a bit different for most of us. Prayer, meditation, peaceful music, aromatherapy, massage, there are many possibilities. It may be that no single method is the answer, but a combination of many. I sometimes think that it’s mostly the effort I make, not actually what I do, that makes a difference.

I don’t have all the answers. I’ve lived with PTSD for many years and I wish I were in better control of it now. The one thing I do know is that I won’t sit back and just expect I’ll get better as time goes by. I won’t allow PTSD to take over one more moment of my life if I can prevent it. Why? Because I know the value of finding peace again. Good luck to you too.

LIFE WITH PTSD

Living with PTSD is not a picnic, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s my reality and I just have to deal with it. The toughest part is the anger. I’m angry a lot of the time, my temper has a hair trigger, and I can explode with little provocation. There is a reason though: PTSD is based on chemical changes in the brain.

That’s not an excuse for bad behavior, it’s just a fact. I still have to put the effort into controlling my temper and not lashing out at others. I think knowing that chemical changes in the brain drives those behaviors makes me more determined than ever to find a way to overcome the changes and “reclaim” myself. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost who I really am to PTSD. I don’t like feeling that way.

So, what do I do to reclaim my even nature? A lot of the time it involves isolating myself while I get a grip on my anger. I journal to seek what’s behind my rage; is it really that someone or something is bothering me, or is it simply that I’m already more than half way to a state of frothing anger and sometime ridiculously small has tripped me the rest of the way? Once I answer that question, it’s easier to let go of the anger. While I know isolation is a problem for people with PTSD, I also know that in order for me to get my anger under control, I have to cut down on the outside stimuli coming at me, or there is so much, I can’t get a handle on it.

Living with PTSD is not easy. No one said it would be. It’s up to us to learn as many different techniques for coping as possible. Somewhere in all those techniques are the keys to caging the tiger. I’ll find it. Just give me a little more time and I’ll find it!

REFLECTIONS

I am so looking forward to this New Year! The past couple of years have been quite trying for me, so looking at a clean slate coming up is a delight. This year I would like to make some progress on stabilizing my finances. I have the tools to do this, and was quite successful last year, but then unforeseen circumstances pulled me back into the mud again. I don’t like being broke all the time, so it’s time to step it up and get back on track.

I’d also like to find more ways to reduce the stress in my life. I’m getting older now and find that stress affects me more negatively than it did when I was younger. For one thing, I am facing knee replacement surgery soon, and I’ll also need cataract surgery on both eyes. I’ve been putting it off for several years now, but I don’t think I can get away with that much longer.

As the New Year comes in, I want to have a plan for reaching some of the goals I have. I know that writing a plan down increases the likelihood of achieving it by greater than 50%, so I will think it through and write it down. These things are worthwhile to me as I want to achieve some things before I retire.

I hope the New Year is filled with blessings and prosperity for you too, and that, as a nation, we can learn to live in peace with each other and with ourselves. Happy New Year!

RETROSPECT

As 2019 draws to a close, I find myself reviewing all the things that have happened, and the effect it has had on me. I survived one of the worst years of my life, and that, I feel, is a success. I took on some new responsibilities, gave up some old ones, and found things to look forward to even in the midst of all the chaos. Although I would not want to repeat this year, I believe I have done a pretty fair job of getting through it.

Sometimes we have to look back to see how far we’ve come in order to appreciate the distance we’ve traveled. It also helps us to not become overwhelmed by all the negativity that life can throw at us. While I have to say there are things I could have done better, I can also say I’m a survivor and I made it through some very tough times.

I’m looking forward to 2020. I know there will still be tough times ahead – there always are. But I also know I can get through them, no matter what is thrown at me. And, as I enter this year, the slate is clean and perhaps things won’t be as bad as they were last year; that gives me some hope.

As this year closes, I congratulate you on being a survivor too, and I hope the New Year will be one of prosperity and peace for all of us. Happy New Year!

TOO MUCH

Christmas has been my favorite time of year since I was a child. We were very poor when I was young, but at Christmas time, it was a happy time anyway. I have a brother and two sisters, and we all shared one present, usually a boy’s gift because my mother felt it was better for her girls to play with a toy that traditionally was given to a boy, than for her boy to play with a toy traditionally meant for a girl. I didn’t mind. I didn’t know anything different. The season held such joy for me, and most of it revolved around things that didn’t cost anything. The lights, the music, the smell of the pine tree in the living room was so special. My how things have changed!

Last night, as I was driving into Grand Rapids to do my volunteer work for the week, I realized that I was not enjoying the beautiful Christmas lights like I usually do. As I thought about that, I realized I wasn’t even seeing them, I was too busy worrying about all the stressors that are overwhelming me. How will I pay for the rest of the presents I have to buy? I need a new furnace; where is the money for that coming from? Will the snow-blower start again this year? How long is my car going to go without falling apart?

There are a million things to worry about, and it seems that lately, that’s where my focus is. The problem is, worrying about things I can’t change, robs me of the joy of the season. I was fortunate in realizing what was happening before the season was over. I slowed down, said a short prayer of thanksgiving that my car is running, I can still shovel snow if I have to, and the holiday isn’t about how much money I spend. I actually was able to recapture some of the joy of the season!

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there will always be problems; that’s what life is about. It’s taking the time to be appreciative of what you have and for the good things in life that make it worthwhile. Take a few moments to stop this holiday season and appreciate all the wonders of the holidays. It will be over soon enough and you can get back to worrying then! Happy Holidays!

A HAPPY HOLIDAY

I remember loving Christmas as a child. It was the best of times! I was always filled with excitement and the season meant so much to me. Now, things are different, and it angers me that the innocence I felt as a child was taken from me. That’s one of the things PTSD does: it robs us of the joy in our lives, if it can.

I still love the lights and the scents of the season, but things are different with PTSD. I don’t enjoy the crowds at all. Anyone with PTSD knows the difficulty of living with hypervigilance. That makes shopping difficult too. And, family get togethers…not something I look forward to, that’s for sure.

Holidays are much more difficult with PTSD coming along for the ride. So, I have to look deeper for the good times. I’ve accepted that I have to find new traditions to look forward to, like baking and decorating cookies and dropping them off at the homes of friends rather than going to parties. And, I can still enjoy the music and the lights.

I have to accept that life is different with PTSD, but at least there are still pieces of Christmas that used to mean a lot to me that I can still hold on to. I refuse to surrender everything. The meaning of the holiday hasn’t changed, I have. But that’s okay; I can live with that and still find joy in the season.

BEING ASSERTIVE

Expressing your needs in an assertive rather than an aggressive manner helps both you as a speaker and the other person as a listener feel heard and respected. Assertive communication means:

  • Knowing what you want (or don’t want)
  • Considering your rights and the rights of others
  • Expressing this to other people in a way that is respectful, and clear enough to get you the outcome you wantExpressing yourself assertively means you recognize your right to have your needs met, as well as respecting the rights of others who are involved. You are clear about what you want. The other people involved have more respect for you and are more likely to listen to you as you are not trying to manipulate them in a passive-aggressive way. (Adapted from PTSD Coach Online)
  • In assertive communication, both people feel heard and respected in the conversation. As a result, others will consider your opinions. You are more likely to get what you want using this style of communication than any other.
  • Assertiveness can help you communicate better as it increases your self-respect. It is a communication style where you are direct, but not aggressive towards others.