A PTSD Triggered Morning

Morning of November 27th

Wide awake and pitch black. A quick look at the bedside clock reveals it’s only 4:40am. I still have over another hour to sleep.

My mind races with things I’m excited to do today. I don’t know how I could get them done, but I want to try to fit them in if at all possible. I would love to start the holiday baking. I have a scarf to finish and several more origami boxes for gifts to make. And definitely squeeze in a run. An appointment and work are the anchors of what I need to work around. I mentally strategize about how to make the fun stuff happen. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back this crazy thought process was Clue #1 that I was anxious and trying to vet my energy in a positive way.

Then I remember it’s my husband Daren’s Birthday! Maybe I should get up and make scones to surprise him with? I can do that, then maybe run before logging into work since I’m teleworking today. That would be a fine start to the day.

I forgo the attempt to go back to sleep and decide on birthday scones. Clue #2 that I wasn’t quite right should have been when I went into the bathroom for my Ayurvedic morning routine and I didn’t quite screw a cap back on one of my oils before picking it up again… by the cap. Ugh what a yucky mess. 

I stumble downstairs in the dark all set to make blueberry scones. The three cats are milling for breakfast and are so very underfoot, the sink is sort of full and the dishwasher needs to be emptied, I need to clear these things to bake – all are in my way. 

My heart starts to race. Clue #3. Things not going the way I expect. I take a deep breath and remind myself that nothing I am doing is truly necessary, has a deadline, and are only things I would like to do and are in no way vital.

For a few minutes I feel calm and present as I put everything away, feed the cats and rush over to open the blinds. Why am I rushing??? Clue #4.

I also notice that last night we left a mess of pillows and blankets strewn all about the living room. Pet toys are everywhere. And there is a cat puke to boot! I realize I’m rushing and that opening blinds can take place after I start to bake. Why do I need to keep reminding myself to slow down this morning? Clue #5.

I walk very slowly on purpose back to the kitchen and begin taking out the ingredients and supplies. I preheat the oven. Start the coffee maker (how could I not have done that first thing? Clue #6), and start to assemble what I hope to be scones in a short 20 minutes or so.

Moments later my heart starts to race again. My breath is erratic. Clue #7.

Something is SO wrong. But what? Why last Wednesday evening did my son Tom snap at me when I asked him to keep the dog’s training collar on? I immediately get angry about this even though I didn’t at the time. The look of disgust on his face 10 minutes later when I asked him politely if something was wrong while I was in this same kitchen at this same counter, assembling the makings of a Thanksgiving dish. The look on his face was followed by a loud, angry statement about how he doesn’t appreciate coming home from work and being talked to like that. I quickly looked over to Daren at the time who had his back turned pretending not to hear the conversation.

Like what?” I asked. 

“Forget it ma!, I’m taking the dog for a walk”  as he stormed out the door.

How dare he? At the time I almost laughed it off. Immediately after the door slammed behind Tom, I asked my husband if I said anything wrong. He affirmed I had not in the very least. Hours later while at his girlfriend’s house, Tom texted me to say he was sorry about snapping earlier and that he loves me. The whole episode was just NOT a big deal. So why am I so upset this morning? Clue #8.

I start mixing the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to overmix. As I prepare the counter with a light dusting of flour before turning this beautifully slightly moistened dough to the floured surface, I consider how much I cannot stand when someone accuses me of something I didn’t do, then yells or gets mad at me for it! Kind of the way my oldest step-son stormed out of the house and sent a rash of nasty texts after falsely accusing me of throwing away pieces of his mother’s wedding cake one morning a few months back. Immediately following that incident my husband scratched his head along with me and assured me I did nothing wrong, but after a few days if it was ever brought up again he appeared nervous and shifty; looking like he really doesn’t want me to bring it up ever again. Did he talk to his son? What on earth about that changed his mind so drastically about this incident?

Now my heart is REALLY racing. I feel as if my life is at stake and I need to fight for it! Why am I even thinking about this now? Clue #9

I continue to work, but my hands are shaking, I can’t concentrate. Clue #10.

I want to bring these things up with my son and husband. Unearth them and find out what they were thinking long after the fact, as soon as I see them today– Clue #11.

There are two ways this story could go

  1. I could do just that – what I wanted to do. Talk to them about it. And how might that go? I know how this story ends, but it wouldn’t matter because I don’t want to feel the terror, anxiety and anger I feel right now about it. I want these feelings to go away pronto. I’ll sound angry, because I am angry and super crazy anxious. I’ll let them know I can’t sound kind and gentle when I’m anxious like this – but it will not matter to them. All they will see is an angry mom/wife. They will be defensive. I will plead that I’m just trying to understand and want to talk. They won’t understand me or why I’m bringing it up. I don’t know why either. All I know is that I’m infuriated about this. I’m infuriated about being accused of things I didn’t do and then being treated poorly because of these said non-existent things.
  2. I could remember that I have PTSD and I missed a lot of clues that I was so obviously anxious this morning, I woke up anxious and at some point became triggered in the kitchen.

This morning thankfully I went with the latter option. In fact as soon as I came to terms with the very real fact that I have PTSD last summer it was an option at almost all moments when I had this feeling that something was just terribly wrong and at some point it started to feel like my life was at stake. My issue nowadays is that I always feel terrible when I miss the earlier clues. Sometimes I can catch them and breath or take a medication. But today I missed them all before I was fully triggered. 

As I begin kneading the dough I thought more deeply about what I’m really, really feeling. I was likely triggered by Tom’s reaction simply by being in the kitchen in same way with the same light while it was dark outside. That trigger lead to thinking about my step-son months ago, but it really led all the way deep down into the child inside me that became frozen in a certain state 40+ years ago.

Being accused of something that wasn’t my fault, something I didn’t do, or something I couldn’t have possibly known was the norm. It often led to consequences where I was abused, sometimes very badly. My mom was often a bystander, not wanting to be abused herself. She would often look away or side with my father (the perpetrator). Someone standing by while I was unfairly accused hurt even more. Even though he didn’t mean it, Daren keeping his back turned or refusing to talk to me about the supposed wedding cake incident feels like a bystander not helping the child inside me in need.

Since this past summer I learned that long-term childhood abuse is particularly complex if it was at the hands of a caregiver, because as a child your actual survival is at stake. You need your caregivers to live. That terrified part of me has become frozen in time. I often handle situations like this and a handful of others that would have led to abuse in a similar manner. During the initial encounter I’m very strong. I act as if nothing is wrong, as I had to do as a child just to get through the episode. Crying wasn’t allowed, even while getting hit- in fact it made things worse. I learned to deal with an incident by being strong and doing whatever I need to do. The hurt, terror and anger always came later and still does until this day when an old wound is rubbed, some time has passed, and my body feels safe and I’m re-triggered. Which often enough strangely leads me to feel as if I’m in survival mode. My heart, my breath, the crazed thoughts. My lower brain’s alarm signals to me that I need to fight for my rights, get out, get even, I’m being wronged, etc. 

We all have that lower brain (the reptilian one without higher rational thought-like a crocodile). Mine recognizes triggers that were necessary for survival long ago and all our lower brains possess the ability to shut down the executive functioning portion of the brain if survival really is at stake when we need to flight, flight or freeze. It’s how we are built. The problem with PTSD is that sometimes the danger is only perceived and not even real. If the person doesn’t catch it, they have an episode which isn’t pretty. When I’m already anxious before I’m triggered I’m far more likely to not notice. 

While folding blueberries into the scone dough, my higher and lower brain were in conflict. The part that I innately identify as me (more or less the higher, rational thinking part of the brain) was telling myself I was alright, I’m only in my kitchen; totally safe- I am and will be ok.

This part of my physical symptoms of being triggered are where adrenaline has entirely flooded my body. I can feel it’s desperate need to be released. I start to boil with heat. I hyperventilate and often cry uncontrollably. The next few hours are always recovery. Sometimes this happens often – several days in a row. I’m told it’s normal as you are going through PTSD treatment to go through time periods like this. When a childhood trauma victim feel safe as an adult- however many years or decades later, the body begins healing itself through bringing up old cellular memories in order to rid the body of deep-rooted habits/reactions/etc that no longer serve it.

I put the scones in the oven and set the timer. I’m lost. What was I going to do next? Did I make the coffee yet? I’m dazed, I’m confused, I’m sad… I’m just overwhelmingly dysfunctional. Daren comes down. Today I can explain my full thought process. We hug. I cry. I can hardly pick up a cup without almost dropping it. The scones are ready. We enjoy them although I can’t finish even one.

Sounds crazy? Yes, I know. But overall, I’m feeling better day by day. I know I need to go through this to get over/past/through – however it’s best phrased “it”. I continue to be patient and greet whatever arises, being careful to not get suckered into false alarms. That’s the trickiest part. 

But I’m OK. I’m enjoying the healing, one cell at a time.

On childhood trauma

Social Media Disclaimer:

Many people often ask me why I so freely share my troubles. I share because I’ve found shame for so long in not being perfect. I’ve felt for too long like damaged goods I’ve learned none of us could ever be perfect and to even try to entertain such a thing or put on that façade is a set up for failure and takes WAY too much energy. We all suffer and we can only gain strength with connection. So I’m living the change I’d like to see by normalizing what is after all very normal.

Hygee (Hoo Guh) & How I Plan to Embrace Winter this Year

I never heard this word until last week. I was starting to plan for the holidays and feeling really festive and excited, until my heart sunk thinking about January and the rest of the winter.
I REALLY don’t like the winter. But it’s an inevitable part of life. If I’ve learned anything this year that is positively impacting my life, it is to enjoy the moment, whatever it is; as this too shall pass. Alan Watts wrote a book called “This is It”. Meaning, as we are waiting for life to start or get better we are actually wasting it- because the whole thing; the good, the bad, the ugly… the joys, sweat & tears… and even traffic is “IT”.
I hardly noticed the winter until the year I was pregnant with Gabby. She was due in June and around February I really started nesting. I had a paper calendar on the wall at the time (who didn’t in 1999?) and on the last day of February I excitedly turned the page and saw the beautiful spring picture for March. My heart filled with joy. I was so excited and ready for spring. I went to bed happily anticipating the coming months. But when I woke up it was still freezing, dark and wet. Weeks later it was still freezing, dark and wet. That same year as the days turned darker and colder in October I realized I am one the thousands I have been hearing in the background who dislike what feels like the never ending season of winter.
20 years later and I’m still a hater. I want that to change, or at least to accept it the way I can smile and catch myself from feeling grumpy during traffic. This is a totally new concept for me to accept even a yucky present moment [most of the time anyway] and tell myself that this is really it! This is life. There is nothing else and even this could be kind of enjoyable when I realize I’m alive and experiencing what exists in the spectrum of living experiences.
So I went to my best ally that I turn to for answers (Google of course) and asked “How to enjoy winter?
Almost every search response turned up this word “Hygee” pronounced “Hoo Guh” (I personally like the way I was pronouncing it in my mind better, but that is neither here nor there). Apparently it’s a Danish word that loosely translates to coziness. The Danish are the well known as the happiest culture in the world, but also have one of the more harsh winters with a population of human settlers. What is their secret?
One can look on their own, I’m not going to go bonkers writing it all out- but the general concept is to embrace it, do all things inside that you’ve been putting off, make time for friends no matter the weather and to indulge in winter foods, clothes and warm beverages. Embracing it means hunkering down and getting cozy. Lots of candles, soft light, and blankets. Also, going outside every day for a bit no matter how dark or cold. Not only is the fresh air and movement of walking a benefit, but the contrast back into the cozy home makes it all the more sweeter.
As I raked leaves at both of our homes this week, covered the stubborn little spring bulbs I recently planted that were poking up, and started to put away the outdoor summer items; I felt a sense of connection the earth and dare I say even slight excitement toward this season for this first time ever.
Being prepared and doubling down on making my home cozier than ever felt right. I ordered non-holiday candles for my windows that I plan to not move until the sun starts to set at an earlier hour next year. I purchased those battery operated string lights for little places in the home near the potted plants I brought in from the outside for the winter for extra light & cheer. I hope to have a fire almost every evening (mental note: need to have the hubby show me how first), so I ordered a ton of firewood just for the occasion. AND I put it in the porch right outside the front door so it stays dry and seasoned… and it is close enough to not groan about having to trek anywhere else around the outside to get it.
What else?
I’m making a list of movies I’ve always wanted to see. Creating a pile of books to keep in living room that I want to read this winter. I am putting together exciting crockpot, dessert and soup recipes to try. I have a list of electronic things I never get to that I want to cross off my mental to do list forever.
I also made a list of things to do on weeknights and weekends that aren’t that exciting to do in the warm months because the draw to be outside is so much greater. Some of those things are to use the sauna we have in the basement, cross country ski (we have a trail within .2 miles from our front door), put together puzzles we bought & never touched, paint, write, color, knit, take online classes to get all CEUs or just learn about somethings I always want to know more about, go to plays and musicals at local theaters, visit museums, try new coffee shops…
Just writing it all out again makes me feel like the whole winter might not be enough time for all these great activities! Could it be that I can enjoy these months? I hope so!
It still might not shake out to actually be enjoyable, but it absolutely won’t be enjoyable if I don’t realize all the cool ways I could embrace and make the most of it. Fingers crossed.
If you are of the many like me who dreads these months and found an idea or two here to make it more bearable – then this was worth the time to write and share.
Here is to embracing it all, because after all, this it it.
~Esterina

 

My wood pile on the porch. This was taken only yesterday after moving a half cord of wood myself and then making a large tarp to keep it all warm & dry. I put kindling in flower pots. Today the scene is full of snow!
Now a day later.
Welcome Winter

How I’m Choosing Who to Vote For

This past weekend Daren & I went to Harvard for Freshman Family weekend and attended the Keynote address: “The Polarization of America: Can We Bridge the Divide?” with IOP Fellow and former Congressman from Nevada, The Hon. Joseph J. Heck.

I didn’t know the name, but found the talk to be something I can really chew on. Before anyone starts to look Heck up, and bash or celebrate any move he ever made; Heck is Republican and obviously putting his neck on the line by speaking in a highly liberal environment – not only for the parents last weekend, but through many lectures for students during the year.

I don’t like to discuss politics and often do not speak freely as to which party I’m more aligned with, but I’m not a Republican. Most of the audience was not either. However, the talk was wonderful and touched on many reasons why the political divide is kind of inevitable but not impossible to overcome.

One part of it really hit home for me and is something I plan to always consider as well as one can. That is the gumption of a candidate. Heck didn’t even use the word gumption, but at times and once during the Q&A he said something to the affect of considering individuals who can stick to their morals well enough to say No to power.

We need to generally hear an individual’s viewpoint on important issues whether it’s equal rights, gun control, the right to choose, immigration, etc. However, even more so it is important to consider whether or not the individual has the ability to work with others (even others on the other side) to come up with solutions that find common ground, andto have the gumption not to flip in order to please power, keep friends, take money, or even just to wrap up a session and go home.

Candidates need to have an answer on hot topics, but it doesn’t mean they are so ridiculous about it that they will no longer adhere to common sense. Party lines and rigid yes/no answers on issues make it nearly impossible to be seen or understood as something in between. Additionally, few topics are so black or white. The topics and national problems that are on the table took years to get to. They just cannot disappear overnight. It’s tricky stuff.

Take gun rights for example. Me personally – I don’t “believe” in guns. When I hear a candidate is a ‘gun person’ I look to their opponent. But in reality a candidate has to answer yes or no if they believe in ‘gun rights’, and that doesn’t answer a whole lot unless you really hear from them or look into their background.

But what does gun rights really mean? A part of me understands the other side. Just because I mightnot have one, I’m not sure I should or even want to have the right to tell someone else what they can or cannot have. If we outlawed them tomorrow what would that solve? People will still have and use them, likely often as much as they do now. We don’t have the money or man power to go into everyone’s homes to remove them. People are not going to turn them in because they are illegal. Drugs, prostitution, child porn and human trafficking are illegal but that doesn’t stop those who want to do these things from doing them. How can anyone tell a 19-year old minority single mother living in a shady neighborhood that she needs to give up her legally owned gun that makes her feel safe so she can shiver and be anxious walking down the block when she had previously felt safe, secure and that she had some power over her life? She wouldn’t be voting on my side even though she has a very rational point.

What I would love for our politicians to do is look for common ground and not give in to nonsense that power & bullying will try to instill. They need gumption to do that.

I have not a single statistic in front of me but would be willing to bet that most people in either party do not want to see one more mass shooting- like EVER. Guns are a part of the issue – of course. But does any majority really, really believe in the right to have a semi-automatic gun or weapons of mass destruction as part of no constitutional restrictions? Are any liberals really trying to take away any and all power to bear arms? Maybe some people fall into these categories, but again – I’d be willing to bet it’s a small percentage. Those persons in that small percent are not the individuals I would like to elect to pass our laws. The individuals I would like to represent my vote would have common sense and not give in to power or bullying of a smaller percent.

How can a healthy minded, willing Democrat work with a healthy minded, willing Republican to come up with potential solutions about how to prevent what we all want to prevent? We have to be willing to compromise, understand one another’s view and create a solution with them that works for all. There are many issues I don’t agree with 100% but understand the other side. It’s not easy and/or black and white.

This is where we the people come in. We do our due diligence and look for the truth in the people we have the power to elect. We understand and look past silly time limits during debates, simple colors to show which party the candidate is aligned with, and the one-liners on all these hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of political signs all over the place.

My first reaction to what I just wrote if I wasn’t writing it would be some defense about “Who has time for this?” But I need to even question my own silly gut reaction. Because if not this, then what actually matters? Isn’t this our right? Our ancestors fought hard for this power and we take it for granted, bemoaning that we don’t have time and just hope, wish and pray that the right people will be elected. Or we just vote down the party line and ignore the alarm signal that someone might not be looking out for the majority or have common sense.

So get involved! Even if it’s too late – at least do a quick google search before voting tomorrow. But do vote. And vote for someone with GUMPTION and common sense. We have the power. Only when you believe you don’t you actually don’t.