Hindsight 2013 – PTSD

I think I’ve pretty much got a hold on this PTSD thing. Sadly this is an un-curable condition, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be controlled.

I had a few attacks in the beginning of the year… and handled them quite nicely without the benefit of medication. As the year progressed I learned how to recognize an attack BEFORE it fully hit, and can begin evasive measures.

For example… last week I was eating lunch at a local establishment when a PTSD trigger hit (first one since last July). I noticed my foot begin to tap and heart rate increase… and immediately went into survival mode. I began chatting with the young woman sitting next to me, diverting my attention to her instead of the trigger. Within moments my attack was averted and I was able to enjoy my meal. I’ve come a long way… a year ago I would have left enough money on the table and RUN.

It isn’t always that easy. There might be a time when a trigger occurs and my reaction is immediate, with no warning sign. In those cases my fight-or-flight response gets mixed up and I usually get up and run to a door. In reality I haven’t had that happen in over two years. If one should happen… I wouldn’t get upset.  I’d laugh at myself… because it really IS funny!!!

Living a calm and stress free life has really been the best prescription. My mood swings have all but disappeared… especially the anger. Hyper-vigilance has also subsided (AKA ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’). A full night’s sleep has become the norm as opposed to the exception.

I am thrilled to be medication free. The many side effects of the prescribed medication was getting on my nerves. No more piercing headaches, no more dry mouth, no longer would I immediately get sleepy… or stare into space like a zombie. Reading incorrect words kept me from enjoying a good book, and the terrifying nightmares scared the sh** out of me. All of that is in my rearview mirror.

My decision to go off the ‘meds’ wasn’t an easy one. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone with PTSD… without talking to your doctor first. My thought process was that PTSD is basically a brain chemistry malfunction. When a trigger occurs, chemicals in the brain are released that cause the problems. I felt if I were able to control the release of the chemical, then I could control the PTSD. In my case… it happened to work.

Life is good!!

Depression Hurts

Today was depressing. I felt it coming on slowly for the past few days… it finally came to a head.

Yesterday I hurt my knee. Twice, in a 24 hour period I slammed my kneecap by accident into two different door frames. It hurt so much it took my breath away. You know that feeling??? You can’t inhale because your lungs are frozen?

Rolling on the floor holding my knee in both hands, muttering “shit, shit, shit”, with tears streaming down my face as the dog licked them was the highlight of my day. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. At that particular moment I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked… I HURT!!! It took a solid 10 minutes to pull myself across the floor and on to my bed. I felt like I climbed Mt. Everest!!

Slowly I pulled my pant leg up to inspect my knee. Ouch! The swelling had already started, and a bruise was forming… right next to the one I got a few hours before. I pulled the thin layer of ripped up skin off to get a better look. Hmmm… I wonder… can a knee cap crack???

Common sense and all my years of raising three kids tell me I need to take care of this. Ice… I need to get ice for the swelling. BUT the ice is downstairs… and I’m upstairs. No one is with me, I live alone. I begin to cry for real this time. Depression rears its ugly head. My chest begins to hurt… like something is stuck in the middle of it every time I take a breath. The stabbing pain in the middle of my back causes me to shift my weight on the bed… which causes me to wince from the knee pain… which causes more tears… then sobs.

I am lonely. I hate being alone… especially when hurt. The tears are flowing freely now. I am having a Pity Party for One. If my mind was clear I would have called someone to help. My brother lives a little bit north and wouldn’t mind coming if I called. Heck, my neighbors would be here in a flash too… all I have to do is call.

I don’t call any one. Not for a swelling knee. That’s not emergency enough. If I broke my ankle I would call… but not for my knee. Besides I am embarrassed I am crying like a baby. No… I will handle this all by myself.

Taking a deep breath I get off the bed and GINGERLY test my weight on the knee. Hmmmm… not too bad. Not good, but not as bad as I thought. Carefully I sit down on my butt and bump down the steps one at a time. In the kitchen I reach into the cabinet for some Advil, swigging some water to wash them down. Grabbing some ice and a towel I start to head upstairs. WAIT… if I’m smart (which I am sometimes) I would make a PB&J and take it upstairs for later. That would save me a trip back down when I get hungry for dinner.

Back upstairs I settle in for the rest of the night… and cry some more.

The morning light shines on my face at 7:00AM as usual. My eyes are soft and swollen. Stretching my muscles wakes my brain reminding it that I’m injured. UGH! So sore!!!

All in all my knee was much better than I imagined it would be. Swelling was down, bruise was darker, but it didn’t hurt near as much as the night before. I’m guessing I didn’t do any major damage, and decide to ‘lay low’ for the day to let it heal faster. That’s when the real depression kicked in.

Sobbing, sobbing, and more sobbing. I just couldn’t stop. I have so much to do at the house to get ready for out of town guests arriving the day after I return home from my daughter’s wedding in Florida this upcoming week. Everything for the wedding is done… except packing… and some food shopping. Oh… and getting my nails done, picking up my son’s suit from the tailor, buying a hand steamer for the dress, painting the ceiling and new wood work, cleaning my horrible bedroom, and so much more!! Waaaah! The pain in my chest has moved to my lower back and smack between my shoulder blades.

Taking deep , slow breaths and thinking happy thoughts usually get me out of this ‘funk’… so I give it a try. OK… it’s working. I’m gazing out my bedroom window at the lake. Ah… calming. Geese squawk by, herons take flight, and seagulls circle… then an un-wanted person walks past my window. My heart tightens, the bottom falls out of my stomach as my ex-boyfriend’s new heart throb not only walks past my house, but she is LOOKING at my house as she goes. ACK!!! Doesn’t she have a clue that the mere sight of her upsets me? Does she not think I am human… that I don’t have feelings? I was dumped so he could date her. Personally I have nothing against her… I am sure she is very nice… but does that mean I can’t live peacefully in my house? Seeing her reminds me he didn’t choose me, even though I chose him. My broken heart opens up and bleeds.

I begin to shake. My mind tells me I should go sit on my porch and wait until she returns and confront her. Instead a clearer head prevails, I get into my car and drive to the beach and sit on my favorite bench. Deep breaths of ocean air can cure anything. Waves crashing on the shore, the sun shining down on me. OK… this was a smart thing to do. I’m feeling better.

A young girl sitting on the next bench over and I start talking. It ends up she is having ‘issues’ with her current guy… so we end up talking for hours! We end the discussion realizing we both are looking for the same thing… a nice guy who loves us. After exchanging phone numbers we part ways. This is the second person I have become instant friends with while sitting on that same bench.

Back home I hobble up and down the driveway putting out as much trash for Bulk Pick Up as I can muster. There is so much more that has to be put at the curb… but I can’t handle it today. The construction debris will just have to wait until next month. It’s not what I wanted… but that’s all I can do for today. Hey… all I can do, is all I can do. I begin to cry again out of frustration at not getting done what I wanted.

Depression hurts… all over. My lower back is so sore I can’t stand up straight, and the pain in my stomach just won’t quit. Did any one get the license plate number of the Mack truck that ran me over??? That’s how bad I feel. Every joint is screaming at me. I decide to go to bed.

The radio is on, I’m relaxing… and crying… slowly… quietly. This too shall pass.

A lot of people take medication for this. I used to… however I found the side effects too difficult to work around. Besides… I am not depressed every day. My thinking is… Why take daily medication for something that happens sporadically??? Most of the time I can feel the doldrums coming and have learned to head them off at the pass. Sometimes I miss the signs… and other times I am blindsided… but I am successful most of the time.

Depression is a symptom of PTSD… which I had been diagnosed with a few years ago. It’s embarrassing to admit I have it. This is not a disease you can see on the outside.

Dating with PTSD is difficult too. Most guys run away once they hear I have PTSD. They are not familiar with it and therefore are afraid to be near me. No one will take the time to get to know me better and realize they only have to give me a little space for a day when I ask for it. Sadly I take it personally, thinking I am not worth the trouble to be put up with. Which then starts the depression cycle.

So… I have decided to not date. However… I WILL have burgers and fries with friends! Anytime!! And if by chance I have to cancel at the last minute, please don’t take it personally… just suggest another day.

This too shall pass… this too shall pass… this too shall pass. One day my prince charming will scoop me up and whisk me away to a castle in the woods where we will grow old together and I won’t have any more PTSD attacks. OK… reality check… I’ll settle for a nice guy and a winnebago (or boat) and we will live happily ever after exploring the USA… and I will be happy every day of my life. Hey, it could happen! I was close once… I just couldn’t reach the brass ring. Hopefully one day soon I will.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears… Oh my!

And elephants, boogie men, and rapists! They all seem to be intruding on my peaceful slumber. I just can’t get a good night’s sleep any more.

My eyes are getting heavy, the yawns are getting closer and closer, longer and deeper. My internal clock is telling me it’s 11:00pm and time for bed. Trudging up the steps I turn left at the top the landing to use the bathroom. I still haven’t fixed the door knob, so I pull it shut with one hand, while turning the ancient deadbolt with the other. Not that I need privacy, no one else is here… I keep the door shut to keep the dogs out.

I don’t spend much time in my room. If you were stalking me you would notice my bedroom light is only on for about a minute each day. After flicking on the overhead light, I grab my Pjs and lay them on my bed, place my glasses on the dresser, plug in my computer and phone, then switch the light off and change in the dark. Dropping my dirty clothes in the hamper I walk around to the other side of my bed and snuggle under the covers.

There is plenty of light to see what I’m doing. I have no curtains on my windows so the moonlight dances around. There is snow on my neighbor’s roof bouncing in more. Besides, this old bungalow only has two electrical outlets for the entire room. Using a small bedside lamp is not an option as I use the one outlet near my bed for the chargers and my alarm clock, which emits a luminous glow. The switch for the overhead is on the opposite side of the room. So… in the dark is the way to go.

The temperature of the room is perfect… not too warm, not too cold… just chilly enough to appreciate the comfort of the quilt. My nose enjoying the fresh cool air.

The bed is so comfortable. Way too big for one person. I purchased a king size in hopes of someday sharing it with a special someone… but that didn’t happen. Now it’s a vast waste of space… a constant reminder to not live in a dream world.

It’s now 11:30. Silently I say goodnight to my family and friends… wishing them all a safe and peaceful life. If someone is experiencing some difficulty I send extra good thoughts their way through the universe. Ending with a special thought for a specific friend, I smile, close my eyes and drift off to never, never land.

Bzzzz… It’s 1:20 AM and my phone buzzes. Fumbling and squinting I see it is nothing… just my phone telling me it is fully charged. Thanks for the message! I immediately fall back into a deep sleep.

I wake because my heart is pounding. There is a sheen of sweat along my arms and legs. Covers are tossed around. I was being chased by an elephant in my dream… or was it a zombie? I can’t remember now. All I know is I was frightened! Running for my life. I look at the clock, it reads 2:43 AM.

It was only a dream… a nightmare. My heart slows and a chill falls over my body. I shiver as I pull the covers back over me. As soon as warmth envelopes me, I fall back into dreamland.

Something is uncomfortable. Something is making me wake up. It’s around 4:15 AM the clock tells me. Huh? My bedding is all a jumble. The lace top of my sheet is now at my feet, my quilt is balled off to the side and my blanket is half on and half off. It looks as if I was fighting someone… or something. I hope I won. In the back of my fuzzy brain I remember some bizarre creatures and monsters, bad people and more. I was with a friend, that much I remember. The more I concentrate on the nightmare, the more I can’t remember. Was there really a crown of thorns???

Fixing the covers I try to fall back to sleep. I toss and turn fading in and out of consciousness for the next hour and a half… a fitful sleep. At 7:00 AM the school bus rumbles by and my eyes pop open. Time to start my day.

Sadly this routine has been the ‘norm’ recently. While on medication for PTSD I had horrible nightmares all the time. One of the special ‘side effects’. However I have been off medication for over a year now. Things have been good. Keeping stress out of my life as much as possible, eating well, keeping busy have all been working it’s magic. All of a sudden the nightmares have returned.

I have a few theories on WHY. One of which is I have been working on my book a lot more. Dredging up the past is not always a good thing. However I will continue writing it. I am compelled to get these words and thoughts out of my head and into book form. I don’t care if anyone reads it or not… I just have to get it all out!

These bad dreams don’t prevent me from going to bed. I still look forward to each night crawling under the covers and closing my eyes. There had been a time in my life where I would do ANYTHING to NOT go to sleep… but that is not the case here. I welcome bedtime. I just want a good, solid night’s sleep!

Anyone out there have a cure for nightmares? I’m all ears.

 

I Don’t Want To Be Here…

It was a PTSD kind of day. My mind was shouting in my head, “I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here.” That tends to be my mantra when I’m having ‘a moment’. It began yesterday and continued this morning… and now, thank heavens is over.

This says it all!

This says it all!

As mentioned before… I am not a war veteran, however I have been diagnosed with PTSD. It used to be a whole lot worse, however I have learned to control it without medication and now my flare ups are infrequent. It’s always a surprise to me at what triggers the reaction. I can experience a scenario 10 times with not a hint of a problem, then WHAM… the 11th will set it off. It certainly makes life interesting.

A few of you have emailed and asked what it feels like to be in the middle of ‘a moment’ so I really tried hard to remember and journal the experience as I was going through it. I was amazed at what I wrote in my journal! Thoughts I didn’t even remember having.

Most importantly… each person is different and my reaction in no way will hint at what others go through. Here is my best description of what happens to me, using yesterday as an example. Sometimes the attack is instant and other times comes on slowly… like yesterday. I saw something that reminded me of an incident in the past. The first bodily reaction is my breathing becomes shallow, my heart begins to freeze, and my foot starts tapping… you know, like a nervous tap, tap, tap.

When the foot starts shaking I take that as my cue to start going into self preservation mode. I focus on my breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through my mouth… slow deep breaths… like meditating. That usually unfreezes my heart at the same time (two birds, one stone!). Next I need to control my thoughts… which by now are going off on crazy tangents, and trust me, it ain’t pretty.

Reading my journal I was surprised at how self loathing and degrading I become. I blame myself for everything that has ever gone wrong in my life. I actually believe I am no good, and a horrible person. I continue to think… ‘If I wasn’t so needy, ugly, mean, protective, prudish, argumentative, outspoken, fill in the blank… xyz would not have happened. My thoughts go in circles, each one worse than the other. I feel like I am spiraling down a black hole… surrounded by a dark cloud. I don’t expect anyone to pull me out… I just keep sinking further and further down the hole.

 

If you were to see a person having a PTSD flashback you will notice most likely they stop in their tracks, move off to a secluded location, put their head down and make faces. They know they are going through it. Some people become violent, others angry, and people like me become mellow and quiet. Although, I have to admit anger was apparent earlier on, that symptom disappeared when I stopped taking pills.

Medicine meant for PTSD did nothing to stop these thoughts. My reasoning was, “Hey, if the medicines aren’t working when I really need them to, then why am I taking these things and dealing with the side effects?” I also came to the conclusion that my PTSD was a ‘brain’ issue. I fully understood the concept of a chemical releasing from the brain causing my reactions and feelings, therefore I thought… if I can prevent the chemical from releasing, I should be able to stop the attack. Sounds plausible, right?

So… once the breathing and heart rate are under control, I focus on my thoughts. Some times I do hard math problems in my head, other times I think of good times I have had in the past. I’m not that great at history, but I took a trip to Williamsburg and I try so hard to remember the places I saw and what I learned. Since I quilt I sometimes work out a complicated pattern in my head. I do ANYTHING to keep the ugly thoughts at bay. I know the process is working when I feel the dark cloud lift and I begin to see light. My thoughts return to normal and I know the ills of the world were not my fault. Ahhh.. I’m back on planet earth.

Once calm and collected, I try to remain so. I will wrap up in a blanket and read a book. The book I choose is important!!! It must be something to keep my interest and have no relationship problems. That usually means some non-fiction. I struggle so hard to focus on the first few pages… the internal fight is distracting. If I can go to the beach and sit on my bench to read, so much the better… but most times I don’t want to drive. I either turn off the phone, or simply ignore the ring… cocooning myself from the outside world as much as I can. And there I sit until it’s over.

While I sit I think of running away. I’m not comfortable in my own skin. I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE! I don’t want to be in that situation, I don’t want to be going through this. There is nothing anyone else can do for me… except try to understand, be supportive, and know that I will be fine in just a little bit. One person used to sit quietly by me and play a soothing CD like Enya. THAT was perfect.

This process can take a few minutes, or a few hours. In yesterday’s case it took 12 hours. There is no telling. When the attack comes on instantly… it is usually over just as fast.

If you saw me yesterday and today you might have thought to yourself that I was a little more subdued than normal. I doubt you would have noticed much difference. I still went to work this morning, I still cooked meals, I walked, I talked, I interacted… all while remaining calm. Phew! That takes a lot out of a person.

I hope this post has helped you to understand a little more about PTSD. I don’t have it as severely as many others, plus I find my episodes decreasing in number and strength. If you have any questions I would be more than happy to answer them as best as I can… from my point of view.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

Deb

 

 

Unsettled…

I can’t get over the feeling I’m ‘unsettled’. You know… as in ‘not on my path’. I believe everyone has a path in life to follow. You don’t know which direction you are to head, but as long as you stay on target most things work out. Little side trips off the main trail are OK… your heart and soul will tell you when to return to the original plan. These blips on the radar are meant to expand your thinking, giving you a better view of your goal in life.

In the past I know I have been travelling in the right direction. It hasn’t been easy… and the bumpy road certainly has not been paved with gold. There are no cheerleaders on the sidelines pointing the correct direction. At every turn I made a choice by listening to my head and heart. 99% of the time I felt I made the right decision. It’s that 1% that is bothering me now.

I am not on my path. In my heart I KNOW I’m headed the right way; however I feel someONE or someTHING is standing in the way and I can’t get around it no matter how hard I try. It’s very frustrating.

A few weeks back I was baking pies for Thanksgiving. The music was cranked, I was singing along having a grand time. I was happy. I haven’t felt genuinely happy in a very long time. It felt sooooooo… good. Having made many pies in my life I can toss them together on autopilot so I let my mind wander a bit.

Crack! “CRAP!” My bowl shattered into pieces. This wasn’t just ANY bowl! No, it belonged to an old set of Pyrex my mother gave me when I left home at the age of 18. It was the ONLY thing she gave me. Just a few moments before I was marveling at the beautiful shape it was in. Having only hand washed these bowls over the years I patted myself on the back for keeping their color bright and clear.

Wahhhhhhhhh…. My bowl is in pieces!

It was my own damn fault this bowl broke. Not paying attention I placed the bowl on the stovetop because there was no room on my teeny tiny counter. The burner was still on simmer from cooking previously. All seasoned cooks know you NEVER place Pyrex on an open flame. It even says so embossed on the bottom of the bowl.

My PTSD kicked into high gear. As I wiped up the mess and tried to stop the melted butter from oozing into the gas burners, all I could think about was that it served me right to have my favorite bowl break. I was happy and not paying attention. I chastised myself for letting my guard down. I should have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Obviously I am not allowed to be happy. Every time I am happy… BAM… something happens, and it usually is not a good thing.

I start to silently cry over the broken bowl. Tears drip down my cheeks. Two of my kids are in the other room, so I suck it up and quickly flick them away. At first I am amazed at myself… it’s only a bowl for heaven’s sake. I don’t get attached to material possessions. Really! Yes, my mom gave me that set, and yes I really liked it… but so what? It can be replaced. My first reaction was to throw the rest of the set away, mostly so I wouldn’t have to look at the space the broken bowl would not be filling. Then common sense prevailed and I put the remaining bowls back on the shelf where they belong.

I wasn’t crying over the loss of the bowl. No, I was crying over the loss of my happiness… and my feeling of not deserving it in the first place. I can be very hard on myself at times. PTSD is not very forgiving.

My fight or flight response told me to stop baking. Give up, run away from the kitchen. The most important pie, the chocolate cream was already made… the others were ‘extras’… my contribution to the Thanksgiving table. Stopping now would mean nothing to anyone. I fought the urge with all my strength and stayed. I stubbornly finished each and every pie I originally set out to bake.

A pumpkin pie with a gingersnap crust, a chocolate cream with graham cracker crust, and apple hand pies were completed with a determined look on my face. Gone were the tears, the smile, and the singing. All the fun was drained out of me and finishing the baking became a chore. But I am NOT a quitter… so I completed the task at hand.

Sometimes it’s the PTSD blocking my way. I can work around that. First I stop what I’m doing and become completely still, then take one huge breath in through my nose and exhale through my mouth. That forces my racing heart to slow down. Next I focus my mind on something totally different, like a difficult math problem. Once under control I resume what I was doing… like baking pies.

Not all detours are caused by the PTSD… and those are the ones I don’t know how to get around. Those are the blockades that frustrate me. I can’t explain what they are, how they get there, or WHY they are there… they just are… and I feel unsettled because of them.

So… How do I find my way? I’m stumped for an answer. It seems every time I think I have a solution… boom… another blockade slams down in front of me… and I stop dead in my tracks wondering what in the hell happened.

I can do so many wonderful things… I raised 3 good kids, cared for a sick spouse, started up and ran a multi-million dollar business, travelled cross country and back without a map in the days BEFORE GPS, sailed in a hurricane, and so much more. You would think getting back on my path would be a piece of cake… er… pie, wouldn’t you?

Life shouldn’t be this difficult! I live for the day everything falls back into place and I am happy everyday… the way I know I can be. It’s just a little out of my reach, I can see it in the distance, it’s coming… I have to believe that!

Power Ball Lottery…

I don’t play the lottery as a rule… however with a potential winning of $425,000,000 (with a cash payout of $278,000,000) I think I’ll take a chance. WOW! That’s a lot of zeros!!!

My husband played the lottery religiously every week of our married life. Once the Pick Six began he would use a combination of our birthdays and anniversary date. I will wave my magic wand and have the lottery spirits help me select a combination… hopefully a winning combination… to play today.

“Oh magic 8 ball… tell me, Will I win the Lottery tomorrow?”

“Highly unlikely”

Oh well. But what if I DID win??? What if…?

Let’s see… the first thing I would do is pay off my mortgage. Then I would pay off the mortgages of everyone in my family… and purchase a home (either condo or house) for those still renting. Next… I would set up trust accounts for the same family members to help pay their yearly taxes.

Thank heaven’s I have a small family!

OK… now that everyone has a roof securely over their heads, I would concentrate on educating the next generation by setting up an Educational Fund to be used by any blood relative of mine wanting to attend college and beyond. Of course there would be stipulations as to grades and attendance (kill joy). Oh… I almost forgot there are still some family members with school loans to be paid off… I’d clear those bills for them too.

As I re-read this post I get a clear picture of where I place my priorities. Home first, education second.

When my husband was ill and in a sub-acute care facility his medical bills skyrocketed out of the stratosphere. No matter how hard I worked, or how much money I brought in, I just couldn’t keep up with the costs. The facility was insisting I sell our family home to pay their bill. I freaked!!! Selling the house would leave the kids and me on the street with no roof.

It wasn’t the idea I had to sell the house that caused my panic attacks; it was the fact I couldn’t afford to put any kind of a roof over our heads… at all. Not only did the facility order me to sell my home, as an additional slap in the face they had all monies coming into the house via Disability and Social Security… the money I used to actually live… reassigned to them. So I was being stripped of the bulk of my income AND my house. Speak about a depressing situation!!!

At least I paid for my car in full, and in cash… no matter what happened I knew no one could take my car from me. Heck… I was most likely going to have to live in it. Little did I know when I purchased it I should have checked out the leg room when the seats were down to make sure I could stretch out. Just kidding.

How I got out of this mess will all be covered in my book… however that experience rattled me to my very core. So it is no surprise to me I want to provide a secure roof for everyone in my family. I can’t prevent anyone from ordering them to sell their house if they too get into some kind of bind, but it will certainly allow them to have something to barter with.

By the time I finished with all of the above, I have no clue how I would spend the rest.  I definitely would add a bunch to my investment portfolio… which currently allows me to do all the fun things I want. Imagine how much more fun I could have???

So… how would you spend $278,000,000 (less tax)… if YOU won the lottery???

PTSD part 2…

I got side tracked with the hurricane and felt it more important to post on that and keep my PTSD posting for a later date. The time has now come to continue my story.

So far… I told you about my diagnosis. Let me skip ahead a few weeks. I think the doctor is absolutely off his rocker. I know my body and still believe I am only depressed. PTSD… seriously? Nah!

One evening I decided to go to the local bookstore… yeah, yeah… one of the BIG NAMED stores. I was bored and wanted to see what new books came out. Cutting through the self-improvement section my eye caught a book that seemed taller than the rest. The spine read The PTSD Workbook. “What? There’s a workbook for that?”, I asked myself. “Huh! Who knew?”

Every lover of books knows you NEVER flick a book off a shelf by using your index finger on the top of the spine. NEVER, ever… but I did any way. I flicked that book off the shelf in an instant. The pages automatically fell open to the list of PTSD symptoms. My mouth dropped open. I was in shock. I fit the profile to a tee. I started to cry, right there in the self-improvement aisle. In a daze I slowly moved over to a table in the café to read further.

I guess the doctor was right after all… I do have PTSD! Wow! Its time to start taking this seriously and deal with it. And so begins my long road to recovery… of which I am still travelling and by most standards will continue to travel until the day I die.

Prescription medicine was the first order of business. Trying to find one best suited for me was a nightmare. Zoloft was the first line of defense. It left me so weak I could barely lift my head off the pillow. Oh, and hungry!!! I was constantly hungry.  Back to the doctor’s I go where it is decided to try Welbutrin. It took a few weeks to settle in my system. I felt spacey most of the time, and a little nauseous, but for the most part I was happier and beginning to sleep more.

After a month or so I began to get dizzy. “No big deal”, I thought to myself. “I’m sure this is just a phase that will pass soon as I adjust”. A friend of mine did not agree with my nonchalant attitude and made me promise to see the doctor TODAY! He sounded so concerned that I decided to call for an appointment, just to humor him.

Whoa… my doctor read me the riot act for waiting so long to come in. He immediately switched my prescription to Cymbalta. Changing medicines is not as easy as stopping one and the next day start the other. Nope… it requires a gentle decrease of the first one and a slow increase of the new one… at the same time. For a few weeks my system was crazy as it adjusted. Xanax was prescribed ‘as needed’. I was very careful to not use it unless absolutely necessary.  In hindsight I should have stayed home in bed while the change over took place… but delusional me continued to feel I was fine and so continued to go to work each day. I am sure I wasn’t productive.

Finally… everything evened out and I was under control… although in a fog most of the time. My daughter caught me on the lower level of our bookstore one day staring at glittery Christmas ornaments as if watching a psychedelic movie.

Therapy was progressing now that I was medicated. Thoughts, feelings, emotions and more came flooding out. Before being medicated I would sit in the chair across from the therapist with a smile on my face and say that everything was ‘fine’ not owning up to reality that everything was NOT fine. Actually it was far from it. I held my feelings and emotions in so tight I had no idea how to release them. A large boulder had more emotion than me. Which in turn led to panic attacks, feelings of low self worth, and so much more. The drugs gave me the ability to finally push that stone, known as my heart aside and explore what was behind it.

Different techniques were used to help me come to terms with what I went through and how to deal with it. ‘Tapping’ was the most effective. I believe the more scientific term is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). It’s a combination of saying an affirmation while tapping gently on pressure points. You start at the top of your head then continue in a pattern over your eyebrows, the sides of your eyes, under your eyes, above your mouth, under your mouth, your chest, and finally your rib cage. Continuing this circuit while repeating affirmations sends your inner energy in a spin. Your mind resets itself and you feel totally different about things when finished. One of the last things said is, “I accept myself and all my feelings”.

Ah! What a statement!!!! I ACCEPT MYSELF AND ALL MY FEELINGS. Just typing it now I feel the tension in my body release. I would leave my therapy session all happy, relaxed, and ready to conquer the world. My feelings were laid bare, discussed, acknowledged, and dealt with. Everyone should be so fortunate to learn this.

In this phase of my life therapy is working, issues are being dealt with, and I am getting stronger. I guess it also helps that I met a guy who makes me feel beautiful and  giddy. For the first time in my life I feel great! Things are looking up for me… I see a rainbow in my future for the very first time. So… what’s the first thing I do??? Yup… cease taking my medication. What a mistake. Why in the world do people like me think they know better than the professionals? My medical doctor made it crystal clear I would be on medication for at least a year before he would consider the possibility of taking me off.

To be honest… I didn’t have any medical insurance and the $400 a month pharmacy bills were sending me into a tailspin. I had more anxiety over how I could afford to continue the medication than my original reason for taking it. The side effects were beginning to take their toll on me too. Constipation, thick salvia, dry mouth, constant thirst, foggy head, and instant tiredness with no warning was making it difficult to function. I dreaded changing medicines so much that I decided to cease taking it altogether rather than consulting my medical doctor for an alternative.

I began to spiral back down to the bottom of the pity pit. No amount of ‘tapping’ could pull me back up. When asked by the therapist what I was feeling at the moment, I had no answers. I felt nothing… A big fat zero. There is no way to fix a problem if you can’t articulate what the problem actually is. Where once I was eager to go to therapy, I now dreaded it. In my mind it became not only a waste of my time, but I was beginning to dislike my therapist intensely. She was asking me personal questions I didn’t want to answer. I simply didn’t want to explore myself and all my feelings’.

It was strongly suggested I go back on pills. In as much as I didn’t want to, I saw the benefit and sheepishly refilled my prescription. A cheer erupted all around me. Apparently, unbeknownst to me I had become difficult to live with. I assume there was a silent pact made to tip toe around me and not say a word… as I did when my husband decided to quit smoking cold turkey and became an ogre. My family and friends were so happy I was back on regular meds.

I would love to say my story ends here… that I continued therapy and stayed on my medicine… but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my next installment I will tell the tale of how my world came crashing down, I had a breakdown, I read a book, and got off medicine permanently.

Until then… keep smiling… and remember to put one foot in front of the other.

Have a safe and happy Turkey Day!! Gobble! Gobble!

Aftermath… I am so lucky!

I was one of the lucky ones. Although my house was not damaged… I have no phones, no power, no heat, and the water is quickly creeping up my basement steps. I am certainly not complaining… Again… I am one of the lucky ones.

Emerging from my home on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 7:30AM to assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy, I was met by my neighbors doing the same thing. Everyone was walking around like zombies not believing their eyes. The upheaval of trees, docks, canoes, and power lines made our street look like a war zone.

 

My street sign, blocked off

First on my personal inventory list were my kids and dogs. Everyone is fine. OK… move on down the list I told myself… check the house.

I began to relax as I quickly made my assessment. No tree branches crashed through my front window as I feared. My roof was still in place. Other than a lawn littered with leaves and debris… nothing was amiss.

Swaying Power Lines… very scary. I had to move my car ‘Just In Case’.

Looking across the street…the swaying telephone/electric pole stopped at a 45 degree angle… and did not fall as I just knew it would. The canoes didn’t fair as well. Docks were tossed around like King Kong was playing with toys and got bored. The canoes were hanging on with all their might trying not to sink.

Canoes hanging on!

Further down the street a huge, old, majestic tree gave up and let the strong wind gusts knock it over, taking the street light pole and wires with it. Now it lay tired and dead across the road blocking traffic.

One of the many reasons we didn’t have power.

 

I widened my circle of comfort, checking each layer like peeling an onion as I go. Each layer getting worse and worse as I move down the road… and me having to process what I am seeing before moving on.

 

YIKES!

Downed trees are becoming a common sight, no longer eliciting a gasp from my lips. They are just a normal part of the surrounding scenery. They lie across roads, on roofs, over electric wires, in yards. They are everywhere! Huge dead trees, roots exposed and most times pulling the sidewalk up with them. Some hit houses and left gaping holes in rooftops, or tore off a corner of the house as it fell; others did not.

My eyes refocus as I near the beach. My mouth drops open, not a sound escapes. I am stunned into silence as I notice the damage. Allenhurst Beach Club no longer exists. The beautiful seaside bar overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Mr. C’s  Bar and Grill is gone. No longer will I be able to soothe my soul sitting at that bar watching the waves roll in… or delight in the sight of a fully lit Christmas Tree in the sand. Oh no! My bench!!! I turn and frantically search for the bench… my heart racing. Celeste Vacarro’s bench where I sit and write every chance I get… where is it??? The boardwalk has been tossed up and out of the way. Cement and wooden benches broken apart from the force of the waves… but there sits my bench… in one piece, at the end of Spier Ave… just where I left it.

‘MY” bench was the first to be unharmed in the storm. It is at the very bottom of this photo. Ahhhh….

As a person suffering from PTSD I don’t know how to explain to you how important having a ‘safe place’ is. There are so many variables that go into making a space the PERFECT spot that they are very difficult to find. I have already had one space ‘disappear’ on me and it took MONTHS to settle in to this one. This bench is so important you can find me sitting on it even in the dead of winter, on the coldest day of the year. I have been there in sleet, rain, snow, and broiling sun. I go there whenever I feel I need to… and trust me when I tell you how well it works it’s magic. I feel like a totally new person when I leave.

Would the world stop spinning if this bench were broken or swept out to sea during the storm? No. I would just be ‘out of sorts’ and totally at odds until I found another place just as comforting. Maybe next time I should look for one that is heated and air-conditioned.

I continued my walk towards Asbury Park. Plywood that had been purchased for the

What is left of the boardwalk, vinyl siding, and picket fences.

sole purpose of protecting windows was now floating in a puddle, with the glass shattered around it. I was one block in from the ocean and yet there was so much sand I thought I lost my way and was on the beach… I wasn’t. Splintered boards from the boardwalk, pickets from fences, and pieces of vinyl siding floated pass me in the streets towards the lake.

A jeering and laughing crowd was just up ahead. “What in the world are they doing?” I wondered. From the distance all I could see were people, mostly guys, swinging sticks at a pool of water in the street. Some were squatting down and picking something up. They were ‘fishing’ with their bare hands!!!! The turbulent ocean waves threw saltwater fish… THOUSANDS of them… over the road. They were left behind in large flooded puddles in the street. Speak about shooting fish in a barrel! People were smacking them with a stick to stun them long enough to be scooped up. Fish for dinner tonight!

Walking home I watched as homeowners, dressed in warm clothes and boots began the clean up of their property; sweeping sand out of their house, washing mud off the siding, pumping out basements to the sound of a humming generator. The smell of gas mixing with fireplace smoke filled my nostrils as I turned down my street.

Months ago I had made plans to go to Disney World this week. My daughter is getting married there in June and we were to meet with the coordinator, florist, chef, and photographer. Since my home was secure, however without the normal ‘comforts’ I am used to… I made the decision to leave a day earlier than planned. Thank heavens I was driving and NOT flying!

So here I sit, in the Wonderful World of Disney where every dream really does come true. I have plenty of electricity, gas, and food… as I watch the horror unfold on TV. Knowing my family and friends are still in NJ and NY making the best of a bad situation.

I will be home in a few days, and begin my clean up now that power is restored. Smelly refrigerator needs to be emptied and disinfected. The basement needs to be dried, as do the items that had been floating around in it. I am certain my hot water heater will need repair… or better yet, I will call a plumber and finally have that tankless hot water heater installed!

My daughter emptied my mom’s closets of all coats, gloves, socks, bathrobes and such to donate to the shelters. I will follow suit from my own closets when I return. Do I really need 4 pair of gloves while others are freezing??? No! I believe I have an extra coat or two… and a few sweaters… and blankets… and….

As I mentioned in the beginning…. I am one of the lucky ones. So very lucky!

Coming soon to a town near you…

I don’t want to be here.

I DON’T want to be HERE!

I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!

 I… DON’T… WANT… TO… BE… HERE!!!!

Idon’twanttobehere.

I find myself repeating these words over and over and over. They began bouncing around in my head a little over a year ago. I vividly remember the first time I heard them. I was standing at my kitchen sink… looking out the window onto my neighbor’s fence. It was the end of summer 2011.

I don’t want to be here. I heard the words as clearly as if someone whispered them in my ear.

What does that mean? I don’t want to be here in the kitchen? I don’t want to be in this house? I don’t want to be in this town? I don’t want to be in this situation? I don’t want to be unsettled? I don’t want to be in this time of my life? Where don’t I want to be???

One question that popped up was… Do I not want to be here on this earth? Thank heaven I crossed that off the list immediately. Yes, I wanted to be here on this earth… just not HERE. Where was HERE? I haven’t got a clue.

As the year passed I would hear these words now and again. I don’t want to be here. Until one day I was writing in my journal and BINGO. I simply do not want to be HERE! As in… Calgon, take me away! Whisk me away from this stressful place and let me sink into the warm bubbly bath of my soul and not have a care in the world. It’s time for me to FLEE! Yes! Run away and hide! Yes. YES! YES!

For those of you who have never suffered from PTSD or depression, let me explain this is a normal behavior. My PTSD has screwed up my ‘fight or flight’ reaction… which I will explain in further detail in a future post.

I quickly made a decision! Call it what you want… an adventure, escapism, fleeing, rebooting, soul searching, a ‘walkabout’, or just plain ‘running away’… but over the next year or so I will be gallivanting across the USA exploring and experiencing everything I possibly can… by car! And it all begins next week!!

This idea has been percolating for years. When my ill husband was still living at home and making my life extremely difficult, I could think of nothing else but running away to a cabin in the woods. No electricity, no cells, no computers.  I just wanted time to think, admire the beauty surrounding me, and spend a little time to just ‘be’. I was never alone in this dream… Nope, never alone.

Another quirky PTSD thing is never feeling safe. Always being ‘on alert’ that something bad is going to happen. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Trust me, in my life that shoe has dropped plenty of times. My dreams always had a trusted friend with me. Someone I knew would warn me if they heard a noise. That person wouldn’t have to protect me, or even entertain me… they just had to be an extra pair of ears and eyes so I could let my guard down just enough so I could relax. In reality that person doesn’t exist… so I’m going alone. I’ll survive… I always do.

Thinking that driving an RV might be the most comfortable way to travel, a friend and I visited an RV dealer to check them out. Those motor homes were AWESOME… kind of like an adult tree house on wheels. If I had a traveling companion MAYBE I would consider one… but I realized I didn’t want the responsibility of something that large all by myself. Besides I would also have to trail a smaller car behind so I could get into the nooks and crannies of the country.  A cost analysis proved that driving a regular sedan and staying in hotels would be more cost effective any way. So I scratched the RV idea.

When my kids were young, I took them on a cross-country road trip, staying in campgrounds. That trip has become a highlight of their lives. So… I decided that camping a lot of the nights would be a great idea. KOAs (Campgrounds of America) are always clean, well lit, and safe. The national parks have some fabulous camping areas also. And at $20 a night you certainly can’t beat the price.

Setting up a tent each night is not something I relish doing. Although now a days there are tents you simply throw into the air and they ‘pop up’ as they float back down. Add an air mattress, pillow, and blanket… and I’m good to go, even at my advanced age. THEN I stumbled upon an ad for the SylvanSport GO… a lightweight aluminum trailer/camper. Very cool! Check it out HERE. Sharpening my pencil, I went back to the calculator to do another cost analysis… nope, not worth the gas to tow it all by myself.  The end result is to use a combination of hotels, campgrounds, and friend’s sofas.

Now that my lodging and transportation needs have been meshed out… I need to pack in supplies. A trip to a local bookstore scored me a Road Atlas, A Guide to the National Parks, plus the ‘must have’ book, 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. For my birthday last month my kids gave me an AAA membership, an emergency car kit, and a National Parks Pass. For ‘creature comforts’ I purchased a wireless speaker system for my iPod (to listen to books on tape), a solar powered light, and fan. I need to unearth my plug adapter for the car to be able to charge my laptop and phone… and I am ready to rock and roll!

First stop… Disney World! Of course! My daughter is to be married there in June, so it is time to meet the wedding co-coordinator, taste the menu, choose our lodgings, find a florist and hunt down someone to do our hair!! Oh… and wander around Epcot gorging ourselves with all the best food from various countries during the Food and Wine Festival. Oh! I can’t wait!

Once my ‘work’ there is done I will be on my own with two days on my calendar to fill before I head north to Atlanta. My sister-in-law is throwing a fun shopping extravaganza in her home and I’m part of the sales staff. I will be visiting with a high school classmate in the area before heading north towards home… and stopping in North Carolina for some sight seeing too. All in all I will be on the road for 2 weeks… then head home.

I am sketching out my next two trips. February will find me in Texas. I have only driven THROUGH Texas, never stopped and explored. Since their weather is nicer than ours that time of year I will head out that way. I am sure there are thousands of things to see and do along the way.

Also… I was graciously given the use of a timeshare for a week. So now I am researching all the possibilities. I narrowed down the time I want to use it… One of the first two weeks in January. Now I just have to decide WHERE. Hawaii is on the top of the list, as is Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, Charleston, and more. I know you all think I’m crazy to mention Maine and Martha’s Vineyard… in January! My reasoning is EVERYONE visits those places in the summer… I want to be different. There is nothing better than walking off the beaten path to explore something else.

Apparently I walk to my own beat 🙂

PTSD…

Don’t you wish people came with instruction manuals?? Or today’s technology gurus would invent an app to give you a quick peek at another person’s ‘issues’? Hey!!! That might be fun!

I can see it now. You are walking down the street and this good-looking guy bumps into you and says, “So sorry, excuse me”. Once the interaction has taken place you whip out your smart phone, aim it at the guy and tap the app. It reads… BE KIND TO ME, MY DOG JUST DIED… or…I’M A PICK POCKET, CHECK YOUR WALLET.

Nah! TMI!

How about an app that just displays your latest Facebook status? Nah.

I know… how about displaying one of the many labels put on each of us. ADD for example. BITCH, DRUGGIE, ALCOHOLIC, A (as in scarlet), ALS, PCOS are more. Mine would read PTSD.

Yes… I have been diagnosed with PTSD. And before you begin… let me answer the questions I know are bubbling to the surface of your brain.

No, I have not been in combat.
No, I don’t duck down when a car backfires.
Yes, I love fireworks!
Yes, I startle easily
No, I am not on medication
Yes, I suffer from depression at times
Yes, it does impact my daily living at times
Yes, some people treat me differently
Yes, it bothers me
No, there is no ‘cure’
No, I have not resorted to alcohol
Yes, I have been in therapy
Yes, therapy works
No, I am not in a relationship so I can’t answer that one
Yes, it impacts my relationships with others.
Yes, I have tried yoga, meditation, art, writing, fill-in-the-blank
Yes, I know I look ‘normal’ (that one ALWAYS gets me… What exactly IS normal?)

All of the above questions… and many others have come my way either face to face, via email, or Facebook messages. I am not offended or shocked by any of them. I have always answered frankly and honestly, and will continue to do so. The ONE question I cannot answer quite yet is, “How did you get PTSD?” It’s a very personal question that I have not figured out a short, socially acceptable answer I want to share with the world. As I continue to write my book, Wearing Highrise Panties with Lowrise Jeans an answer is coming forward. Perhaps you will just have to read the book when it’s published to find out.

In the meantime, once a week I will write how PTSD affects ME… and only me. Hopefully I will able to shed some light on this alphabet label I have been branded with and prove to the world we are ‘normal’ … just like you ☺

Let’s get started…

About five years ago I was having problems sleeping. My husband had passed away after battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)… another alphabet label… for more than eight years. I assumed the sleeping issues were a result of depression and figured, “This too shall pass”.

My husband’s planned passing did not turn out to be the caring, loving ending it was supposed to be. Due to mudslinging and threats from ‘those who shall remain nameless’, it turned into a gut wrenching and ugly mess. Lawyers had to get involved a few weeks after his passing… and that’s all you need to know at the moment.

Back to the ‘not sleeping’… a friend of mine who happens to be a psychotherapist suggested I see someone about the problem. She has been watching me slide downhill from a distance and waited patiently for the day I asked for help. As a friend she couldn’t ethically work with me… but when I finally DID ask for help, she quickly gave me the name of another psychotherapist she thought would be perfect for the job. It took me another few months to actually place the call.

The therapist and I got along just fine. Talking about my life, what I was like in the past, what I am like now, etc. At this point I have not been diagnosed with anything. Just a person with some sleeping issues ‘talking it out’ with a professional. Eventually medication was suggested as ‘an aid’. Oh no!!! Not me!! I refuse to take medicine for a sleeping issue. In my view this was a ‘mind over matter’ problem and I could deal with it without medication, thank you very much!

During this time I had been meeting a friend for dinner out every few months. When I finished relating the medication story they replied, “Why don’t you give it a shot? Sometimes you need the medication to provide an even base so you can begin to solve the problem.” Hmmmm…. That sounded logical. It hadn’t been explained to me in that manner. OK… I’ll check it out.

I made an appointment with my medical doctor the very next day. It was a regular, boring physical with all the normal questions. I filled him in on my sleeping issues… or lack there of, and gave him a cliff note version of the last few days of my husband’s life on earth. Then he left me alone in the room for a while… a long while… a very long while.

As I glanced around the examination room earlier I noticed a few framed newspaper and magazine articles on the walls. In my boredom I decided to read them. Huh… my doctor apparently is some big wig in the area of Depression. Who knew? So… as I sit in the empty room awaiting his return I diagnose myself with Depression.

The door suddenly flies open and I jump off the table. The doctor zooms in with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. You know the one, the pasted smile. The smile that says, “I have some news for you and you might not like it”, smile. I am sure they are taught that smile in medical school.

“After reviewing your history I believe you have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he announces. He continues, “It is very normal for someone who has been through a situation like yours.”

“Uh, are you sure you want to stick with that diagnosis? I felt for sure you would declare me depressed and call it a day. Isn’t that your area of expertise?”

“Yes, I am… but I’m sticking with the diagnosis. PTSD”.

I walked out of his office dazed and confused, grasping a prescription for Wellbutrin.

So there you have it… the very beginning of my story of PTSD. As the weeks progress I will tell more of my story. Most likely I will post towards the end of the week… Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Those days seem to be my best writing days for ‘touchy’ subjects. Sundays I don’t function at all. I HATE Sundays. If a good fairy granted me one wish, it would be to banish Sundays from my life. Oops… Off topic ☺

Have YOU been ‘labled’? If so… what?

Please leave a comment if you have a PTSD question. I promise I will answer.