There were several things I needed to do yesterday and it was rather challenging. The difficulty is that, for me at least, trying to do anything is rather difficult because it because I don’t have much energy and even moving seems to take effort. I know that there are some who utilize the “fight” response as a result of their trauma. I suppose there are many reasons why a persons response to trauma could be “fight,” “flight” or “freeze.” One of the ways trauma manifests itself with me is the “freeze” response (at least the vast majority of the time). Even as I sit here and try to write, it’s not coming easy. I’m struggling to maintain my concentration and effort and I don’t know how this entry will turn out. There’s much inside of me wich is pleading and screaming for me to stop. Sometimes I envy those who’s response to trauma is action (the fight response), though I know that it’s just as problematic in it’s own way.
In the past, I would force myself to do as many things as I could. I always would try to do more than I was capable of because I’ve never really learned about setting realistic goals or having realistic expectations. As a result, I would force myself to do things until I would have a complete meltdown. I would force myself to do things until my emotions completely overwhelmed me and completely shut down. These episodes weren’t a classic breakdown, but I would collapse into an intense disassociation with physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. I would drink heavily and / or just stare blankly at the tv (or the wall) for days or weeks at a time. Of course not showing up for work would mean that I would be fired and I would just sit there, somewhere trapped within myself, until the little money I had saved ran out and I’d have to find work. The terror of ending up homeless would drive me back out and I would find another low paying job. Yet I was still not completely “there.” I would be in a daze and not really conscious of what I was doing or saying. My experiences when I was young taught me how to function in this largely unconscious state. Conversations and interactions have patterns and I had learned how to react and respond to those patterns while my mind was somewhere else, far away in daydreams, fantasies and reliving memories.
What I’m learning is that I need to be more gentle with myself. When I got physically ill, I was very sick and even had to pace myself in doing simple things like washing the dishes. But the thyroid, adrenal and digestive issues actually helped to teach me that, even when I’m healthy, I still need to pace myself. Yes, I have dyslexia and visual / auditory processing disorders, but I’ve learned how to accommodate those things with different techniques. With those, I need to take my time when learning something new or taking notes (etc.). I now realize that I need to do the same thing with the emotional pain and issues of my trauma. Healing and peace must always come first. Because of this I’ll never be fit for a highly stressful job. I also need to be careful of what I expose myself to. I can’t watch intense movies or listen to the news. I drive the long, slow way on empty roads rather than fighting expressway traffic. If my wife and son go out to meet others, I need to think through who will be there and if anyone has a tendency to be argumentative, confrontational or triggers some of my latent, negative emotions.
This also means that on days like yesterday, I need to accomplish as much as I can…but reserve the right to drop everything if my emotional state requires it. There are many benefits to this. I don’t end up pushing myself to the point where I have a meltdown and collapse into a mindless zombie for days or weeks at a time. It’s a way to validate myself for what I’ve been through and nurture myself in a healthy way. I develop confidence, more inner strength and healing by not pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Yes, when dealing with PTSD and trauma, sometimes doing nothing more than washing the dishes on a given day is a great victory.
The challenge is that with deep, intense emotional trauma. That must first be healed before anything else is attempted. It doesn’t have to be complete healing, but enough to be able to be functional. There’s a hospital in nearby called Bryn Mawr Rehab. They specialize in therapies for traumatic brain injuries like car accidents, stroke, blunt force trauma to the head and so on. The therapies they do there take months, even years and no one humiliates them or pushes them to get back into the work force. They even have programs to help their patients slowly reintegrate back into the world.
Toxic Stress and emotional trauma cause brain damage. In some cases severe brain damage. However, there is no support or understanding from the general community for healing and rehabilitation. Just “shake it off” and “get back to work.” I tried to do that for decades and now, at 50, I still struggle to be functional with even simple things. I need to allow myself to heal and promote self healing. I need to take my time and learn what my own pace is for accomplishing things. I need to pursue healing a wound which others don’t understand and don’t believe is credible or valid.
This will take time and (like my dyslexia) means that I’ll always have the emotional wounds, but I can develop accommodations and techniques which will allow me to be functional and develop some basic sense of peace.
Be Well, My Friends