Tag Archives: ptsd

Everything is more challenging with PTSD: 5 steps to meet the challenge

This blog has been a way to creatively express myself. My teacher used to say that creativity is the most important thing we have, and that its expression is the pinnacle of living. While what I write is not fiction, the process of writing is yet another way of connecting to life amidst everything – including PTSD.

Notice that I didn’t say that PTSD makes my life harder – I try choose my words in a way that moves me forward in the direction of healing. By saying that PTSD makes life more challenging, I step into a mode of considering what shifts will help me.

It eventually became clear that I had to plan around PTSD to move through life. Pretending that I will have energy in the evenings, social interactions are easy, and leaving the house is just a matter of crossing the threshold was not realistic.

Here are 5 steps I’ve been taking to meet my challenges.

1. Rest and reflect

While I can’t control my work hours and kids’ and my appointments, I can choose my time to rest and reflect. For me, this starts at about 9:30 pm – I need lots of sleep.

Throughout the day, PTSD causes stress to build up in my body as I flow through triggers, flashbacks, and anxiety. So, when I lay in bed in the most comfortable position, I reflect on the sensations in my body that were accumulated during the day. This is my time to meditate.

I breathe, commune, and surrender everything – daily. This helps me to process most things while I’m awake so that I don’t burden myself with disruptive dreams.

2. Prepare for leaving the house

Many people who have PTSD also have agoraphobia.

To help me with the anxiety that comes with leaving the house, I -first – limit how often I have to leave the house. With PTSD, I learned that I don’t need to wage war on all of my anxieties because they are not necessarily going to get better with increased exposure.

It’s actually a misconception that increased exposure to things that makes us anxious is always the right way to go – especially if the resulting anxiety feels like trauma. The outcomes are not always going to be positive. So, to limit the amount of stress hormones running through my body, I try to limit how often I get stressed.

If I have to go somewhere, I take time to prepare myself for the exit. It’s not like I can just run out – I need to rest, reflect, and anticipate exiting the house for an hour or so prior to leaving. If I do run out, I end up looking like that indoor cat that just escaped from the house and now isn’t sure what to do!

I need to have most things ready the night before to offload my work mornings, and then I just focus on getting out the door. It’s a process – lots of deep breathing, a protein breakfast, and fruits to give me some natural sugars.

3. Prepare for people

The most powerful triggers I experience that result in flashbacks and panick attacks are due to interactions with people. I no longer come to work or social events casually “showing up.” Instead, I prepare before entering work by breathing deeply and imagining a buffer between me and others – an enormous lavender field.

People like to work with someone who is competent and consistently calm, always moving about with grace and poise. Even when others are spastic, they want an anchor that brings them back to feeling steady. So, I need to proactively prepare to be that anchor by separating my PTSD lens on events from being available to people in a positive way. Ultimately, it is the people with poise, grace, and calm assertiveness who help to glue an organization together.

4. Focus my time on what’s important

We all tend to react to things that seem urgent but may not be important. I know this well, having a long history of spreading myself too thin and doing too much. With PTSD, energy is a valuable commodity! PTSD people get exhausted just managing anxiety daily.

This year, I did an exercise where I tracked how I spent my time and how these activities aligned to what I considered important. To my surprise, I spent a greater portion of time dealing with situations that did nothing to support the greater shifts taking place in my life.

For example, I decided I wanted to work in the private sector again, but I wasn’t doing any training or updating my resume to prepare myself for the transition. Instead, I was still sinking time into tutoring clients after my teaching day job! Well, I stopped tutoring and signed up for affordable courses on Udemy to brush up on some skills. I also met with a friend to go over and update my resume.

There are countless other examples where I was doing things simply because I could do them, and not considering whether they were in alignment with my overall life direction.

Now, I try to distribute my energy consciously into activities that feel like they are going to support me – PTSD and all. If I am supported, then I have that much more to offer to those around me. Focus is truly something that I’ve neglected for too long – but no more!

5. Build in breaks throughout the day

Anxiety has a cumulative effect throughout the day. Various stressors come at us and we may do our best with these, but the body just gradually shifts into fight/flight response with each additional hour. I’d be going along and then realize too late how much stress I accumulated. Then, I would get hit by exhaustion and need extensive time to recover.

Instead of reacting to the inevitable realization that I waited too long to pause and regroup, I now have an alarm on my phone for built in breaks during the day. During these breaks, I need to get up, walk around, and connect with the world.

The building where I work is on a wooded campus – I step outside and breathe the air while feeling the sunshine on my face. I bring myself back to that poise and equilibrium that will later serve others.

Recently, a friend labeled PTSD as a mental illness. I reflected on that for some time, wondering why that label felt so inaccurate to me. Sure, a PTSD body is ridden with a level of stress hormones that one can’t just correct by “snapping out of it” – there is a lack of inherent control and our responses must be managed moment to moment. So, in that sense PTSD does need to be treated and managed like any other chronic condition. However, the inherent stigma of mental illness implies that one is going to act “crazy” no matter what. This is simply not true, and living with PTSD requires lifestyle changes that truly support us where we are.

The Life Spiral with PTSD

My teacher talked about life being a spiral, where we periodically seem to end up in similar situations but we are no longer the same. This speaks to the opportunities we have to heal, over and over, the way we relate to life – the spiral always ascends.

Recently I found myself at a noticeable point in my life spiral. In the past, I became a single mom and left teaching to work in the private sector. Now, I am a single mom again and about to leave teaching for the private sector. The situation feels similar but not the same as before. What has changed?

When I first entered the private sector I was ambitious and focused on single-mindedly climbing the ladder of “success.” I was intelligent and ruthless. And, underneath it all, I had no idea that I had PTSD and perceived threats around every corner. My desire for success was, in reality, the desire to control my life so that I would be safe and not hungry, unlike in my childhood.

Now, I am about to enter the corporate world again. However, this time, I value relationships with people above all else. There is not a ruthless bone left in my body! I am humbled, curious, and sensitive to the bigger picture in which I will play a role. I am also excited to be solving puzzles again, which I didn’t really get to do as a teacher very much. After teaching for five years, I realized that I missed interacting with teams around real-world problems and tapping my creativity. I thought teaching would be a creative outlet for me, but it was eventually deadening to me.

After having applied to a number of jobs, I was rejected. The experience gap didn’t look good on the newly-polished resume. I lay in bed one night and felt the currents of life running through my body-mind. This inspired me to feel and become aware of where they plug into in the larger picture – where do I connect? Which relationships await me? I felt the magic of that morphing through me and as me into an intricate map. I just lay there and was in awe as I allowed this awareness to occur.

The next day, I was meeting an old colleague for lunch. He helped me spice up my resume and I wanted to thank him for his help. As I waited for him to arrive to the restaurant, I got a call from an agent about a potential position 15 minutes away from my home. She said it would be a way for me to show my skills and get my foot in the door after the experience hiatus. In addition, I was contacted by a second company looking to train me for a very specific role and pay me to train – regardless if I was hired in the end. Furthermore, I got invited to an interview to a teaching position at a lovely school that is also a short drive from my home. All this in one day.

Since that day, I have attended to the life stream linking me to the intricate web of life and just following Its lead. Throughout, I had to face my anxiety and PTSD flashbacks – overcoming each and every challenge. Now, here I am.

During this process, I got a very strong insight that eventually my PTSD will heal and the body chemistry will readjust to normal. That would be wonderful! It’s hard to navigate life in a vehicle that is conditioned for threat and does not easily maneuver.

I’ve learned that many people do not understand PTSD – they think one should just be able to “snap out of it.” Often, those with PTSD get misdiagnosed until the trauma aspect becomes obvious and no other diagnosis makes sense. Then, everything falls into place. If someone wants to learn what PTSD is like, I would ask them to imagine that they are being brutally attacked. Really, imagine how that would feel. Then, take away the specifics of the attack and just keep the feeling of it. Then, imagine having that feeling wax and wane but never go away while living your life. And this feeling is hardwired into the body mind. Finally, add to that the periodic vivid visuals of the attack occurring unpredictably throughout the day – a lot like having a nightmare while being awake and trying to function in life.

Now, many PTSD people may not even have the awareness of having flashbacks or that they are seeing everything through a PTSD lens – they think that’s just how life is! It takes a lot of work for these people to build awareness and start to manage their symptoms. Most have no sex drive – especially those with sexual trauma. Most have neverending anxiety even in fairly benign situations. Most do not want to leave their house and avoid socializing. This is “normal” for PTSD.

So, I went through losing a job and finding a job (a fairly grueling process) with PTSD. I can’t just “get rid of it,” so I had to take it with me every time I sent a resume or attended an interview. There were frequent panic attacks just leaving my home to go to an interview, and I was aware of it all.

I am seeing more clearly how the spiritual process, when interwoven with everyday life challenges, elicits deeper connection to life. Even as I feel the PTSD symptoms, I also feel other things – like excitement, curiousity, caring, and creativity. Even though my body mind is still under the PTSD influence, I know that this is not who I am.

As I gradually ventured away from looking for teaching jobs, I began to experience more ease and excitement. This was a reminder to always align myself with whatever makes me feel creative and to recognize quickly when I no longer feel that. For some reason (well, I know the reasons!), I decided that I had to make teaching work for myself even while it was literally killing me with dullness. As soon as I freed myself from feeling obligated to make it work, new opportunities showed up – seemingly out of nowhere. But I had to be ready. I had to be free first.

In supporting my family, there was always the thought of having to do whatever it takes to provide. I was ok with sacrificing myself for them. It took me awhile to realize that I can support my family while also honoring my creativity and life force. This was not obvious at all, even though it sounds completely reasonable. To live that takes a lot of courage to let go. I let go just a little bit more with the help of the light.

Self-Care and Healing the Body-Mind

I’ve started to take a closer look at self-care and trying to understand what that means for me in terms of embracing my body and mind.

What started to emerge for me as primary is a feeling of compassion for my body-mind, which is a switch from wanting to escape it. When I made the decision to dive deeper into my physical form, I resisted the memories and the sensations. But then, I noticed that compassion was possible and inevitable.

Only a few people in this world felt sincere compassion for me. True compassion requires a kindness that transcends requirements for personal gain. Most relationships are tacit agreements about give and take, but compassion only radiates outward. I reengaged the relationship with my body-mind from a space of compassion and it became easier to explore the memories and the sensations. I discovered that I am a living library.

As I felt compassion catalyze union of spirit and body-mind, I began to have insights about something as basic as food. I used to not care what I ate, but now I am starting to recognize which foods are best for my body. For whatever reason, I can only eat fruits, vegetables, and lean meats – with lots of water and almond milk. And, I learned that I don’t tolerate dairy or bread or nuts. Now my body feels calmer. I rarely feel hungry too. The pain that I used to feel continuously (fybromyalgia) has quieted down. On several days of the week, it feels great to do an intermittent fast – not eat after lunch until the next day, and my mind feels clearer.

I am paying attention to the muscles in my body – are they relaxed or tense? The trauma and PTSD make it very difficult to relax the muscles – the chemistry of fight/flight is deeply programmed into the body, always ready for some threat. I started noticing my shoulders – they were always rising up to my ears! When I practice releasing them and relaxing, I noticed something surprising – the body is actually uncomfortable with relaxing because it feels unsafe. Nevertheless, I persevere and continue to practice releasing tension throughout the day – with all of the uncomfortable feeling this brings up.

The ability to feel compassion for myself has opened new doors for relating to how I can lovingly work with my body to let go, release the trauma, and to integrate spirit. It’s the healthiest relationship I had in my life.

My job search has also gone beyond just looking for a paycheck. As I look for jobs and apply, I try to find something that I would find interesting. I think teaching was quickly very boring and tedious for me, except for the times I was directly interacting with the students. Unfortunately, the way that job is structured now is there is too much overhead – teachers are not expected just to teach but to do many extra things, and the work pace is not sustainable. Besides, the material I taught in high school was at such a basic level that it was boring for me – I began to lose interest, but felt compelled to continue for a paycheck.

Now, I feel differently about my relationship to work – I have to enjoy it and I no longer feel the need to overwork. I would also like to be surrounded by intelligent, creative people who are fun to talk to. In school systems, all you hear is mostly gossip, which I find both boring and draining. I feel relieved that I was laid off because it gave me the opportunity to align my life with something new and different. Of course, I am facing some serious challenges returning to the private sector at my location and the experience gap. But, somehow, I just keep trying and acquiring new skills and applying.

I am noticing positive changes in my worldly life as I bring spirit into the body. I am understanding what I am more holistically. It’s becoming clear that enlightenment without integration with the body-mind is incomplete. Once the being is whole and ran from the vantage point of spirit, the body and the mind follow easily. Then, life is more deeply felt and appreciated, even when situations are uncertain.

I’ve talked to enough people to know that uncertainty and change are frightening. Fear can be paralyzing and a person feels stuck, unable to take key steps to follow one’s dreams, interests, and passions. Often, complacency sets in, and one becomes convinced that it’s not necessary to try harder or to discover, express, and hone the outpouring of our unique being.

Living from spirit makes it easier to be patient while moving in a new direction, to try new things – even unsuccessfully, and to keep adjusting without self-criticism.

I was told by someone recently that I am the most resilient person they have ever met – that I’ve been through so much and still am able to function, explore new pathways, and move toward healing. I hadn’t considered myself resilient. However, now I can see that I kept going where possibly some may have completely collapsed. A hard life is difficult to understand for those who did not have the experiences – even the people closest to me did not understand what I had survived. I came close to collapse many times, but somehow I would pull up.

My children see me model this resilience, as I take steps to make the best of what I am given – right in front of their eyes. They’ve seen me go through rough patches, and then they’ve seen me rise up with even greater strength while also encouraging and guiding them through their struggles.

Self-care is only possible when spirit stops avoiding the body-mind and embraces it with profound love and compassion. The body ceases to be a burden or a chore and is ignited and propelled into a whole new level of discovery and expression. I understand that now….

PTSD and Rebuilding My Body-Mind

How can enlightenment and a condition like PTSD coexist? One can be enlightened within a fractured body-mind that needs healing. Some of us will go through the awakening process even after profound trauma had occurred. Not all of us will come from healthy childhoods with nurturing and supportive parents. Not all of us will have been safe as children or even as adults.

I have been studying PTSD ever since my recent diagnosis. I have learned that wanting isolation, irritability, anxiety, avoiding intimacy, work obsession, and constant triggers are all typical of the PTSD condition. During stressors, it is natural to start seeing and living life through a lens of the past.

I have become very aware of my flashbacks in a short period of time. Flashbacks are like film loops that replay the traumatic experience and feel as if they are happening now. Flashbacks also replay the feelings of those past moments (panick, dissociation, pain, or humiliation) as if the trauma is happening now. I learned to untangle these feelings from what is currently going on, which was not easy – flashbacks feel completely blended with the body-mind experience of the present. I draw upon the light to see what It will do with these film loops.

Ever since more of my past memories flooded in several weeks ago, I’ve been bombarded with sights, smells, textures, and feeling of my trauma as if it is happening to me in the present. All of this information is stored in the bioprocess of my body-mind. I must separate from these memories and old energies, and then allow my body-mind to rebuild from scratch. It is clear that all of this is ready to be healed.

This week, I learned that I lost my job due to budget cuts – I was the newest and the first to go. Also, they eliminated the course I was teaching and there wasn’t anything else for me to teach because they have more senior physics teachers. This was another blow to my already-tenuous situation of going through a divorce and trying to finance my son’s college and dealing with PTSD. I realized I was going through a great deal of grieving for my life changes. Trying to unravel trauma and grieving is not easy.

This weekend, I allowed myself to shut down for two days. I entered my grief and trauma and was literally paralyzed by all of it. I felt only intense pain and almost no other brain activity.

By the end of the second day, I felt the light flood my brain and my body felt more alive. There was a feeling of happiness and compassion toward myself. I know that many trauma survivors have difficulty feeling love and compassion toward themselves, and – instead – feel ashamed and worthless. Although my past wrecked my life, so to speak, I understood that this is the hand I was dealt and I have to play it. Accepting my state is not a small thing – it is not easy to go from being successful and functioning to having to completely rebuild oneself from ashes.

How quickly will I heal? What does all of this mean for my ability to function in the world while I heal? I have a solid support system consisting of friends, doctors, therapists, and other people who have had trauma. I have my two boys who look up to me and call on me to be strong. I try to be. I am grateful.

So much of my life makes sense to me now. I can clearly see which triggers caused me to be defensive and offensive in the past – I was stuck in my film loops of imminent danger (even if there was none) and pain, and my anger was the only way to bypass deep depression. I was not always successful and often relived the terror of a small child which felt like I was dying. One of my biggest triggers was the pressure I felt to take care of others while reliving my trauma and feeling like I was going to completely fall apart. Of course, I didn’t really understand this at the time.

It is normal for PTSD people to lose relationships, isolate from people, be reactive, and become paralyzed by flashbacks. This is my body-mind at this time. I know that this is not who I really am, but it is my responsibility to do the work to heal and rebuild my vehicle for optimum expression. It is strange to be “in it” and also observing and studying it as if I am “outside of it.” I am both a participant and an observer.

Of course, I will be doing the work alone. All such deep healing work must ultimately be done without any safety nets to muddy the waters of personal responsibility. I didn’t come to Earth for comforts and props. I came here to embody the light. At this time, most people are interested in finding soulmates and building a sense of belonging or seeking status and belongings. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is not the only way to be alive. Some of us will grieve our lifetimes of relating to the Earth-plane as pleasure-seekers, and then choose the fires of purification and freedom. If you are such a being, please leave a comment and share your story. I’d love to hear from you.

Savage T and Cultivating Gentleness

At the high school school where I teach, my students call me “Savage T.” The nickname came from a simple physics formula for distance, which is average speed (Savg) multiplied by time (t). When I free-style rap during lessons or make jokes, I hear my nickname and wonder who it is they see. Nothing is casual when cleaning up one’s game. Not even fun nicknames…. Another nickname I had was “Miss G.” I know I can “spit fire” all too easily.

As part of healing my PTSD, I’ve returned to actively cultivating gentleness. Gentleness is the first to go when feeling small, afraid, and threatened, which is the unconscious undertoe for those with PTSD. Now that I’m aware when I am in a flashback, I am also aware of how my ability to be gentle fizzles. Frankly, I’m amazed that I’ve demonstrated as much gentleness as I have in my life – thankfully with my own children and students – given that my own sense of safety had been compromised at a young age.

I’ve only met one person in my life who has been consistently gentle. I have studied her tone, her choice of words, and her ability to pause and listen with full attention. She also pauses before speaking. She asks if it is OK to bring something up. She often says “I don’t have any answers, just some thoughts…”. She “sends hugs” and cries at sad stories. She is the opposite of force, and is a calming breeze and a soothing balm.

There is nothing more irritating than people with “answers” for someone struggling – probably because such people make too many assumptions and turn complex situations into trite suggestions. Answer-givers are condescending, especially when their assumptions – due to lack of listening and understanding – are wrong. Know-it-alls are ignorant of others and only see themselves, and are thus really always talking to themselves. A minute of someone listening is more precious than an hour of someone spirting advice. However, it is easy to listen when there’s no personal investment in what someone has to say.

In my case, what can be an issue is my response to people. The perception of threat has given me an edge since my teenage years. While I was mostly quiet as a child, I gradually became more vocal – especially when kids attacked me after school after I first arrived in America.

I was different and a target. Although I was small, I realized that, to my surprise, I had an uncanny force latent in my scrawny body. I stood up for myself in broken English, colored by street slang and intonations. I studied Martial arts for at least two decades total, and started as soon as I began “winning” after-school fights, which took place just outside the tall wire fence of a New York City public school. I was not gentle. I was vicious – defending myself in real-time and was also, unknowingly, triggered into flashbacks.

When my flashbacks began to dominate my life again, about six years ago, I became aggressive to anything that even mildly resembled a threat. It was not conscious and I could not control my response. I got better at choosing my moments of when I shot flames, but I had made no progress distinguishing real threat from perception. I began to fail in diffusing situations which was actually a skill I had used often at work.

Now, I am practicing gentleness as my default. This requires conscious effort while sorting through the mess of flashbacks nipping at my heals. I must assume first that someone means me no harm. I must tell myself that. I must connect with their humanity and vulnerability to turn on my own gentle response. It is easier to do this when I feel no personal investment in what anyone is doing and am not bothered by their agendas. All of this takes effort on my part because I am in the thick of healing. The default is to feel imminent attack, but this must transform to offering service. This is something I can do.

If I notice myself reliving pain, which is frequent these days, I pause and practice PTSD grounding techniques I was taught by a therapist. I put myself in the present by looking, noticing, describing, and touching. I sooth myself by visualizing images that are calming to me. I distance myself from the flashbacks. Now, I am also adding a feeling of deep care to my interactions – to permeate my affect and words with the calm, quiet kindness I am more than capable of offering. As difficult as all of this feels now, I know I can do this.

A Case Of Mistaken Resilience

People told me that I was resilient. When things got tough, I persevered. When situations knocked me down, I found ways to get back up. Life turned me to ash at a very young age, and somehow I came back. Over and over, there would be perceived failure, pain, rejection, and abandonment, but I just continued to redefine and redirect myself.

Moments of strength emerged from seeming eons of weakness, until I realized what was really happening. What appeared to be resilience was actually me outrunning my pain, getting ahead of ever feeling it, and escaping a deepseated conviction of being irreparably broken.

As a child, I learned to escape abuse by studying. Even as I cried and quietly begged to be erased from existence, I buried myself in books. Whatever potential I had I turned exclusively to training and honing my ability to think. When in pain, I resorted to solving math and physics problems. I became incredibly adept at feeling everything and nothing while lost in mental puzzles.

My resilience was a farce. I didn’t have the guts to face what happened to me. Instead, I learned how to dull my pain, detach from feeling, and even dissociate from heartbreak. I was a skinny runt, raped and beaten for years. When I got older and my brother was born, I was simply forgotten and abandoned. To be noticed, which felt like love to me, I had to do extraordinary things. I had to be a superhero, a mountain mover, and unbreakable. So, I trained myself to excel with no tolerance for failure.

What began as a coping mechanism turned into an obsession. I effectively internalized being “faulty” and unlovable, and invested all of my energy into cultivating performance – competitive piano, martial arts, yoga, math and physics, technological expertise, writing, public speaking, and innovating stale processes in corporate settings. I was compensating. I was faking success. Until I began to break down. It was inevitable.

My first repressed memories tore through their cocoons in my early twenties. Reliving my past put me in shock. After coming to, I doubled my efforts to hide my true ugliness. I must have been horrible to have had such horrible things done to me. Memories and flashbacks continued to bleed through even as I fought harder to keep them at bay.

This past year, another wave of repressed memories engulfed me. But this time, I knew what was happening and was onto my tried-and-true methods of escape. This time, I didn’t want to run or hide or distract myself. I just gave into the reality of my past. My previous ways of coping helped me to survive an untenable situation, but they would not help me to heal. This much was clear.

So, I gave up trying to hide and deny the brutality of my past. Looking back, I can now recognize the times in my life where I responded to life in flashback mode. I didn’t know that I was having flashbacks at the time, but I can see it now. I was seeing the present through the narrow lens of the past – small, terrified, and ashamed. I was “back there” without realizing it. This is PTSD….

For several months now, I have been studying my flashbacks and reliving old pain. The light is there to support me. Some days it feels like I may drown in this ocean of pain, but I know I won’t. I threw myself into the kiln once again and fully conscious of what used to lie beneath.

It occurred to me a number of times that I could feel sorry for myself and just give up. However, I don’t feel that it’s really possible for me. Something keeps me going even when I want to just…stop. Maybe it’s different this time because I no longer feel like my life belongs to me. Maybe it’s because I am not attached to any self-image. Maybe I know full-bodily that the only way is through.

I admit that it’s pretty rough right now. I’m not quite sure how I am managing a job, two kids, and my Masters program while also doing this healing work. I want to get through this and have no idea how long it will take.

I know things are improving because I find myself happily being a nobody. No ambition. No need to excel or move mountains. It’s quiet in the eye of the storm. I feel a quiet love even as I am being dismantled at the atomic level.