How about the latest Game of Thrones? No spoilers, in honor of those who need more time to take in the newest episode. I had to break it into two viewings. I was continually hitting pause, and taking several laps around my apartment (to coax Anxiety into allowing me to breathe like I wasn’t just barely winning a 200-meter dash away from White Walkers.) I had to watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers before I could consider sleeping. (Thanks for the tip, Narcoleptic Aspie.)
The second-half viewing, I watched while on my treadmill. I figured if I was going to feel like I was sprinting, I might as well get the full benefit. It didn’t hurt that it was on a much smaller screen, (laptop.) I invented a new way of watching TV: look just to the left of the screen, so you’re practically looking away when the tension rises. For some reason, it’s less frightening in peripheral vision.
The soundtrack was spot on, as usual. I’ll have to rewatch this season on my TV that has HDR, so I can see what happened in the shadows. (And look directly at the screen with full knowledge of when to long blink.) The portrayal of PTSD is fabulous; So many of the characters afflicted after witnessing and surviving unspeakable horrors. Being perpetually stalked and chased by a supernatural entity whose only purpose is my utter destruction is how living with PTSD feels to me. It’s no wonder watching a symbolic, on-the-nose depiction turns me (and everyone else I know) inside out emotionally.
To refrain from speculating about the story, I focused on how we may be altering our DNA by programming our brains with entertainment so immersive, believable, and enthralling. Our ancestors nights were dark and full of terrors of a different nature. Did this program an expectation we’ve fulfilled with our imaginations? Do we need to experience a full range of emotion and stress on a somewhat-regular basis as humans? (It was a lot more interesting in my head.) 🙃
I did make it to the VA for my annual checkup. I used Lyft, which eliminated the stress of driving there. I met my new care provider, and she was kind. I wasn’t present for as much of the experience as ideal, but I managed to get a blood pressure medication changed from one with a known carcinogen. I mentioned I stopped having menses, yay. Yay, again. Heh. Nothing problematic with my labs. I got my tetanus vaccination and was out of there before Anxiety had a chance to ruin everything. Uber yay.
I still feel powerful for the victory. (Even though the side effects of the tetanus shot made me feel like I overdid it at the gym for a few days.) I binge watched the entire series of The Office (American version) over the past few weeks. I loved it. It’s brilliant. It helped keep me from drowning in this awful round of depression. I’m approaching it as if it’s no big deal and nothing to panic over, mostly because I can’t afford to add anything detrimental to this shit storm. (The skin of my teeth, yo.)
Besides, Liana Mormont, Arya Stark, and Ser Brienne of Tarth wouldn’t freak out over a little despair. Not today. 💜✌🏽
Oofda. So much has happened in my world recently. I’ve been processing things internally, leaving me quiet and still much of the time. I watched Leaving Neverland and the Oprah interview that followed over two evenings. I had to take several breaks to walk around and think. I slept the night horribly between viewings. My spirit was unsettled, (and sleep is when we ignore our bodies and exist only in the spiritual plane.)
I’m not consciously aware of how but during that unrestful night, I worked out a significant understanding of how to cope with loving humans. In many ways, the universe has been providing repeated opportunities to address this issue. I’ve been shying away. It’s incredibly complex and often uncomfortable. Hearing Oprah share her wisdom in a repetitive, heavily stressed, and urgent manner finally got to me. (I can be pretty thick.) 😑
I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to process, absorb, sit with, over-analyze, adapt, and finally grow from it. It’s ugly. It hurts. It hurts in ways I can’t even articulate. It’s hard work, too. I have to train my brain to adapt, and it requires a fierce focus. I hate intensely focusing on lessons that frighten, disturb, and drain me. (Adulting sucks; this wasn’t in the brochure.) I wanted loving humans to be black and white; not a gazillion shades of gray I didn’t know existed.
I asked myself why. It turns out; it’s because I fear trauma. I’ve spent half my life healing from PTSD, thus avoiding it seemed an ideal strategy. I was wrong. Hiding from what I fear hasn’t worked out. Ever. (Wait. Except for horror movies.) I’m grateful for Oprah. I love her; she’s one of my favorite teachers. She taught me Michael Jackson was a human being all along. Two people told their story and showed us how pedophilia slithers in and devastates. I believe them. The cracked facade displaying a man as a god shattered into a million tiny pieces.
Now I will gather those pieces and build them into the real man. He looks, moves, and sounds the same. (Many positive attributes remain intact.) However, he also profoundly hurt some children. He broke a taboo that creates ripples of suffering known to wreak havoc in the lives of many for generations. He lied in our face. It will take time for me to sort out my feelings.
Loving people is hard because we’re each a universe of complexity and individuality. All good or all bad are imaginary concepts, no matter how much we want to believe in them. The child within us wants clear heroes; in whom we can invest our love and admiration without fear of pain. Reality won’t play along because humans don’t work that way. Loving is complicated and hurts like hell sometimes. Forgiving is a choice and process involving growth, new perceptions, and scars. It’s so gray, we all have to figure out for ourselves where to go from here. So much of being an adult is recognizing how childlike we are and consciously compensating (when necessary.) Thank goodness for candy. 💜✌🏽
I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after living with it for nearly half my life. Your mileage may vary, so take what fits. In my mind, I see my ability to cope with stress as a balloon. Stress inflates it. Ordinarily, as the balloon inflates, it stretches to accommodate typical stressors. PTSD occurs when overwhelming stress causes the balloon to swell so far beyond its optimal range, it produces a pocket extrusion, reducing the overall tensile efficiency.
From that point on, to prevent a blowout, hypervigilance is required. The amount of stress you can cope with resets to zero (child-like stress tolerance level,) and you have to start over by stretching your stress balloon a little bit at a time, without popping it, repeatedly, until it regains a semblance of elasticity. This process is your new full-time (unpaid, nerve-wracking) job regardless of your present work status. Forget about getting nights and weekends off. Holidays? As if!
Trauma causes PTSD. Something awful happened, and you came up short on internal resources to deal with it in real time. The situation convinced you of your impending and untimely death. Your brain pulled the emergency lever causing you to check out emotionally (because it’s too hot in here.) Once the haze clears and you finally wrap your head around continued existence, PTSD shows up and says, “S’up, bitch?”
The first year or five is mostly training. Figuring out which random things trigger you from calmness to a sudden panic attack, (often for no apparent reason,) quickly becomes a priority. We also soon realize concealing (masking) how we feel is helpful when among others. That ever-present, barely containable, private hysteria shaking in the back of your mind alarms others if you let your guard down.
I believe it’s the tendency to stare off into the distance while visibly unraveling. Masking is exhausting, but you’ll master the ability. The motivation is irresistible: human contact. Isolation may seem like your new lifestyle, but it’s just a tool you can summon when you need to regroup, recover, unmask, and rest from socializing. Humans don’t thrive in permanent isolation, so don’t linger longer than necessary. Social skills entirely fall under the use-them-or-lose-them rule.
The sleep disturbances usually show up right off; such as, nightmares, insomnia, crashing and sleeping for several hours only to awaken feeling unrested, and the like. As does the super-uncool tendency to jump like the clown from It just showed up, over every loud noise, sudden motion detected in your peripheral vision or contact from outside of your view (especially from behind.) Good times.
The flashbacks are like jumping between two avatars without warning or a controller. (This game is rated S for sofa king no.) And there’s always a frenemy or two who will delight in provoking you to jump because it looks hilarious every time. Each time, without your consent, you react as if you’re suddenly about to die. Your reaction doesn’t diminish over time (in my experience.) The OMG-I’m-ending hormones release (like the Kraken) every time. Then you have to go somewhere quiet to recover — every time. Kick them to the curb sooner than later. (You’re welcome.)
The bad news is PTSD sucks so hard it can lead to thinking about suicide. The good news is you can live with it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. The more you practice safely stretching your stress balloon, the more it becomes a habit and less a conscious chore. Only you can choose your pace. Your brain is physiologically different than it was before you acquired PTSD. Don’t lie to yourself about getting over it. You don’t. You build a scar over time and eventually relearn how to manage your stress efficiently enough to get back on your journey.
It’s part of who you are now. The healing process takes place within yourself, and only you can do the necessary work to regrow an efficient stress balloon. A good therapist can provide a map and support. If you have the means, do it. You deserve it. If not, you can still do it. (The internet.) Just remember to be kind to yourself. You have a wound, go easy.
Avoid binging on carbs. They’re prepackaged depression and anxiety outside of moderation. You’ve got enough on your plate without adding shit on purpose, eh?
Practice good sleep hygiene.
Stay well hydrated. Your fight-or-flight system is broken and is sending out false alarms all over the place. Flush out those toxins often.
Stretch when you first awaken, and before you go to sleep. You’re physically tense most of the time, so counter it twice a day deliberately. You’re the boss of you, dammit. 🙃
Choose (ideally) at least three people you trust to support you by connecting with you (unmasked) as you heal. Preferably people who understand PTSD or are willing to learn about it with you. (Pets help if you talk to them.)
Exercise daily within your (physician approved) range of ability. It’s an incredible built-in hormone regulator.
If you can hear, listen to music alone in the dark with headphones on. Hopefully, you’ll find a musician or several whose music can express intense emotions you can’t even classify on your behalf. It’s an incredible release. (For me, Evanescence, Bach, ABBA, NIN, Beyoncè, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, and Fleetwood Mac have helped tremendously in this manner.)
Anytime you feel tempted or compelled to act on suicidal ideation, wait 72 hours first. You survived this long; you can hold out for another three days to allow your brain to self-correct. (This is more a rule than a tip.) 💜 [Suicide Hotline]
It’s okay to have moments when you’re convinced it’s not worth so much effort. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or broken. It signals it’s time to turn on some stand-up comedy or Key and Peele and laugh (like you’re getting paid) for a while.
Others with PTSD can be a source of information, tips, and support. Remember you’re not alone, even when it feels like you are.
Flex in the mirror once in a while. You’re a healing survivor who was once a victim. Life knocked you down, and you chose to get back up and continue your journey. You’re freakin’ fabulous. 💪🏾👍🏾 💜
Welp. I did something today I didn’t think I would. I reached out to the VA for care. Granted, M has strongly suggested I do so repeatedly. As a doctor, it seems it’s excruciating for him to watch my health decline for lack of care. I also reached out to the Patient Care Advocacy to assist in ensuring I’m not subjected to further abuse. (They’re but the first in the chain-of-command.)
It’s not the first time I’ve sought their aid. While the advocate I worked with was kind and recognized the abuse, her efforts, unfortunately, led to retaliatory mistreatment from other VA employees. It led to my retreating under the rock. The fact I don’t speak on the phone (and informed them several times) hasn’t helped matters since the online communication tool rarely works correctly.
Most times, I’m unable to respond to messages received. When I’ve sought technical assistance, I was met with questions about my status, as if I’m new to the VA system. The few times I’ve gotten through, I was offered phone appointments, much to my fury. It’s also rare that the same individual reads or responds to anything I’ve written. It’s a mountain of racism and bureaucratic bullshit I’m facing.
The number of hoops to jump through is astonishing. I’ve decided to break my silence about the abuse I’ve endured. I’m going to fight as if my life depends on it. (It does.) Fortunately, my education and military service taught me a great deal about how to get results from people who would prefer I crawl back under the rock and rot. I won’t.
While I anticipate I’m facing an epic battle, it shouldn’t be this way. There are no excuses for this treatment by the VA. I’ve done my research, acquired legal counsel, and am as ready as I’ll ever be to fight until my pigmentation level and lack of a penis cease to prevent me from being recognized as a human being at the VA. I’m so disgusted and traumatized by what I’ve endured. I can’t even drive past the VA hospital without having a panic attack.
While not everyone at the Sioux Falls VA is vile and dishonorable, those who are have made it a nightmare. I’m genuinely astonished by the lack of professionalism and decency I’ve witnessed in multiple areas of the hospital. I don’t want to be another veteran suicide statistic, of course. However, the mistreatment has repeatedly increased the likelihood immensely.
The irony is a bitter pill to swallow. Even the medication bottles have stickers to remind veterans to reach out to the VA instead of killing yourself. They’re proudly displayed all over the place, but none of them inform veterans it could be that very action that pushes them over the edge. None of them warn of the fact that the VA’s concept of treatment varies tremendously by skin color, gender, and whether or not your provider likes you.
I’ve endured while my PTSD symptoms have worsened and my life has become a shell of what it could be with proper care. I’ve cowered and raged over the unfairness. My mind replays each event whenever I attempt to sleep. Often I end up weeping and give up trying to sleep until so exhausted I can’t prevent it. Then I’m unable to awaken myself when the nightmares overwhelm. I’ve forgotten how well-rested feels.
I’ve kept extensive written accounts of each incident, and plan on being very public and open about everything. I have no qualms about naming people who’ve mistreated me. I’ve begun my thesis on racism in the VA and already have interested publishers. In the light, it will all come out. I disclosed my plan to Patient Care Advocacy to utilize recording apparatus whenever I enter the building. (I’ve done so in the past to keep accurate, provable records.) Beneath the trauma, I’m still a fierce warrior who understands war. It’s on like Donkey Kong.
A letter to future me: Please read this whenever you think perhaps you can get away with it just this one time. You cannot. You cannot get away with it. You’ve forgotten the consequences because it’s been so long since you last attempted this foolishness. Stop it right now. Read the whine-fest below, and remember where it leads. Dammit.
I’m a strong woman. Sometimes I make poor decisions and regret them later. Apparently, I’m also a bit of a sadist, because I’ve made this particular error repeatedly. I know better. I guess I forgot I’m autistic and have PTSD or something. Oops. Tut tut. There are rules. I can’t eat garbage without paying a hefty price. It’s due to consequences that usually take at least a week to resolve entirely, and sometimes far longer.
The universe is laughing at me. (Not the fun kind you can join.) I put the wrong fuel in my body, and now it’s acting up. I need a priorities intervention, stat. I get tempted by junk food every so often, and instead of analyzing why, I give in and indulge. I need that data because the results are once again kicking my ass. (Perhaps some mild public shaming will finally put an end to this folly.)
It hit me just before 7 AM. I awoke later than usual with no desire to get out of bed. Just the idea of rising made me whimper inside; a red flag because I’m not big on sleep. Unless I’m unwell, I’m ready to get up when I wake up. Then, The Depression Monster showed up. That bastard went straight to a commentary about politics designed to raise my blood pressure.
My mood did a backflip over the cliff, while simultaneously flipping both birds at half mast. It happened so quickly I was stunned. It probably worked in my favor by causing me to question what the hell just happened. I realized The Depression Monster was involved and slammed on the brakes. Then I figured out why and launched directly into beating myself about the head and neck for doing this to myself again. Sigh.
I didn’t manage to shower and dress until 4 PM. I didn’t spend that time in bed, though. I spent it pacing around my apartment while debating with myself silently. Some of that time was spent experiencing awe over how long I’d been doing it. I tried so hard to stop. I even wrote out the one step I was trying to take on my whiteboard, (then passed it over and over without it registering for a long, long time.) It said, Get in the shower.
These are hours of my life I can never get back, (and this is day one.) All because I had to eat some freaking garbage. It’s not worth it. Memorize this, Alison. You’re in training for menopause, and it could start anytime in the next decade. Get your shit together, or it’ll end you. Dammit.