Influencing Circumstances To Be At Peace…But My Brain Still Hurts

With CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), I have more intense emotional reactions to things and at the same time it’s more difficult for me to process any emotional reactions. This is due to the changes in the brain which occur to people who experience trauma. I don’t know the whole of it, but things like the limbic system are physically altered by trauma. Because of this, I need to keep myself in situations and circumstances which are as calm and peaceful as possible. In life, this isn’t always possible of course. But at the same time, I don’t have to contribute to my difficulties by choosing to get into situations (or circumstances) which are, for me, provocative and stressful.

Last night, I watched a bit of news. Ordinarily, I avoid this because I find it all so upsetting. When watching the news I sometimes wonder if anything positive ever happens! Why is the negative stuff so over reported? Anyway, the reason I do watch sometimes is to have a general idea about what’s going on in the wider world. I’m not a political person, but I do vote in every election, major or minor. I’ve also had long discussions with my son about the importance of thinking about what’s going on in the world and how important voting is. It’s because of these things that I sometimes grit my teeth and turn on the news.

This caused problems for me this morning. I already have anxiety as a common companion. But the things I saw last night really made my anxieties spike about the present direction and the future which seems to be fast approaching. The most difficult thing, though, were the negative thoughts which started arising, even before I was fully awake. Most times, I bring negative thinking into conscious awareness and challenge them while maintaining a sense of mindfulness. However, it’s really rather annoying when I’m not even fully awake and the negativity starts flowing. At that time of the morning, I don’t want to be conscious or mindful of anything. After my morning coffee, fine, bring it on. But I don’t want to wrestle with that stuff when I’m “in between worlds.” Just a pain.

I avoid certain things like watching the news because I know the effect it will have on me. The circumstance with my wife where I had to set boundaries and limits with her was much more difficult. It caused innumerable problems in our relationship for many, many years and has left scars which still haven’t healed. This was something that was very stressful, but I wasn’t able to fully influence. It was very difficult and ended up invoking emotions and issues which re-traumatized me to the point where even now, 2 years later, I’m still trying to dig myself out of that hole.

But there is another type of stress as well. We live in a townhouse complex in the Philadelphia suburbs. One of the challenges of living here is that parking can be a bit difficult. Every unit is assigned 2 spaces, but some of the folks living in the neighborhood – who are all very nice people – will sometimes have 3 or 4, even 5 cars which take up the spaces. There are also times when some of these folks will park in one of our spots. Any time this happens, I fall into a rage which I can barely contain.

Now of course this is ridiculous. With all the things going on in the world and all the other difficulties (like health issues) I struggle with, who the hell cares where anyone parks!? It’s such a small, insignificant thing, especially knowing that all of our neighbors are very nice, reasonable people? But this is the challenge. When these things happen, it feels very invalidating and disrespectful. It triggers a lot of past experiences when others went out of their way to deliberately do things like this, just to get me angry. When the larger, more important things in life are constantly, deliberately violated, one becomes more inclined to overreact to any perceived slight – so, some very small things can invoke intense, vitriolic reactions.

So I have more intense reactions, am less able to process them or “self sooth” and am overly sensitive to being invalidated or slighted, even when such things are not intended. This makes daily living very difficult at times. Because of watching the news last night, it’s going to take me a day or two to calm myself down and find some semblance of peace. The problem is that the anxieties, negative thoughts and painful emotions aren’t things which can be turned off like a switch. The ebb and flow from lessor to greater intensities. Once these things have momentum and power, it takes a lot of time and a great deal of effort for me to ease them back down to as manageable level as I’m capable of.

There is a positive side to all this, though. Part of it is that I’m more able to empathize with the pain of others and I understand the value of compassion. It also means that my intense reactions can also be of joy or happiness. The negative things are always in the background. However, because of the structural deformities of my brain, I’m able to, perhaps, more deeply understand and appreciate the joys and happiness of others, with others, for others. That, is a good thing.

Be Well, My Friends

(P.S. Just for fun…Know that when this stuff happens, it hurts my brain)

Dissociation And Freedom From “Attachments”

I stopped in at a convenience store this morning after dropping my son off at school. I’ve been trying to be more mindful and deliberate with my thoughts and emotions, but, interestingly, I always disassociate when I’m around other people. Even though I was determined to be conscious and aware as I got out of my car, the next thing I was conscious of was getting back in. Though determined, I had slipped away into unconsciousness none the less.

This is something which I’ve done all of my life. To be honest, it was never safe to be conscious and aware, so I seem to have developed this way of dealing with it. It’s odd, I can function, I can have full conversations with people and actively interact with them, but I’m largely just reactive with those interactions. The only time I’m actually conscious and aware is when I’m alone. Even when walking in the woods, I’ll zone out if a jogger comes along.

Because of my experiences, it’s not safe to be conscious around other people, so my mind goes into a sort of auto pilot and I interact with others in patterned responses to the triggers which their words and behaviors signal to me. The problem with this is that in being disassociated, none of my anxieties or fears are ever healed or resolved. Actually, in living this way, I’ve actually made my emotional reactions, anxieties and fears stronger with the passing years. To heal. To dissipate my emotional pain, I need to be conscious, I need to be aware and actively interact with others.

Driving home this morning, I experienced a release of attachments. I’ve been troubled recently by the fact that I really don’t care about anything anymore. Nothing motivates or inspires me. But there is a difference between hopeless resignation and being free of attachments. From what I understand, Buddhist and Taoist teachings say that the reason for emotional pain and discontentment is the attachments we have to aversions (things we don’t want) and desires (pleasure or things we do want). In being able to free oneself from attachments to those aversions and desires (for pleasure), one is able to be at peace, living a contented life. Wanting to be free of aversions does make sense, but the need to be free of pursuing pleasures or feeling good sounded odd to me. But in watching my reactions and thinking about it, I’ve come to believe that those attachments to pleasures, or the pursuit of them, can be just as pain invoking as those things we don’t want to experience, think or feel.

As I write, I do have a tenuous hold on this freedom from attachments. I still zone out, but, with practice, I can gradually not experience the fear and anxieties while interacting or being around other people. This is something I’m determined to pursue, because if I don’t, if I continue to disassociate, then I’m condemned to reinforce and replay the traumas of my past. I’ll never be free of the emotional pain and will never experience a more safe, peaceful life: If I’m never conscious when having a good experience with others, I’ll never get used to it or learn what normal healthy interactions and relationships are. In my thoughts and thinking, I have a good idea of what normal is. But it’s the emotions, which have their own logic and “thinking” processes which need to be addressed and sort of re-calibrated to what it feels like to be around normal people in a safe interaction.

So it’s not that I don’t want to care anymore, I want to learn how to be free of any attachments to life and things which have plagued me for the whole of my life.

This will take some time. Likely the rest of my life. It’s a frightening and painful process, but I’m determined to see it through.

Be Well, My Friends