I might post these once a week, I think, roughly coinciding with therapy appointments. Or not. No promises (or threats). We’ll see.
I’ve tended to post updates the day after therapy because I’m especially a big kind of a mess after therapy and blogging/writing is how I process. I’m not so much of a mess this week because I didn’t have therapy this week, more on that momentarily. I’m also kind of conflicted about therapy itself at the moment. But writing a bunch of stuff about why I’m conflicted (and then deleting it, so HA) has kind of clarified it in my head, although that does not mean it’s going to be clear to you when I hit publish. Most blog posts are to a certain degree at least partially an exercise in unabashed narcissism, but maybe this one more so than others.
So. After writing out the very long and emotional unloading post which I have now deleted, I’ve concluded that there are legitimate reasons why I might get quicker, more immediately effective results with a different therapist. I wrote those reasons out and then deleted them because… delete, delete, delete. So you just have to take my word for it. Well, and I did share them with a close friend who was all, “Really? That’s crazy….” and other stuff that kind of agreed with me. Did I pick this friend because I knew she’d agree with me? I will leave that to your imagination.
I also was writing largely out of frustration- the therapist wrote down one appointment time on the card she gave me last week, but a different appointment time in her appointment book, so when I got there for my appointment yesterday, the office was locked, nobody was there, and the cell phone number I have was disconnected. And when I got home later there was an email canceling the appointment she had scheduled in her book for a different day, so… yeah. I know stuff happens, and I understand why she needed the time off this week, it just was particularly complicated to get there and back yesterday. So I was irked.
“Do I really need to keep this up? She’s given me some direction, surely I can just do this on my own from here. Mabye there’s another therapist who could help me more. What about _____ in _____, who does _____ therapy? That would be better. Why not just keep up with my current ‘homework’ on my own until I master it and am ready to move on, and then call her or somebody else to start the next step?”
That’s the direction my thoughts were running.
BUT- for me at this time, the alternative isn’t a better therapist, it is none at all. Realistically, there’s nobody else in town I’m going to go see, and there’s absolutely no way I can get myself to another town on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure nobody in my family can commit to that (we’re talking an hour drive one way and inconsistent work schedules as well), and even if they could, I couldn’t. I know I’d be canceling appointments every week with lame excuses and exaggerated illnesses- the mildest prickle of pain in my pinkie toe would turn into crippling gout, arthritis, a sprained ankle- or my genuine distress about the travel would manifest as very real stomach issues and migraines as the therapy appointment loomed larger and larger in the oncoming semi-truck of life.
And it’s not that I am saying she is just better than nothing at all, because that’s not true, she’s much, much better than ‘nothing at all.’
One reason has nothing to do with me, it has to do with my family. Just the fact that I am going to therapy at all matters so much to them I can’t even explain it. A few weeks ago I gave the book Shock Waves: A Practical Guide to Living with a Loved One’s PTSD to my 16 y.o. to read.
Tonight my 16 year old boy who covers all emotions with a smile or a scowl and a joke or a jibe told me in a rare serious moment that he didn’t need to finish reading it, because the fact that I was going to therapy was kind of all he needed for now (necessary explanation: I’m paraphrasing, and I don’t think that’s all he’s ever going to need, and he may need to revisit the book in a few weeks or months), that it made a huge difference to him. I could hardly quit going to therapy after that, now could I?
I did wonder if the therapy was actually helping, but I think the fact that I leave her office with a major head-ache and often have back spasms within a few hours, and the next day I basically feel like an antique toy stuffed with sawdust, particularly between the ears, indicates something is going on.
In talking to her about PTSD causes, signs, symptoms and issues, I know I also have recognized several things that indicate this goes way back. I thought it was just from the Thing that happened a few years ago that I don’t discuss because hello, big, flashing, neon warning sign, symptom 6: Avoid thinking about or talking about a stressful experience from the past.
And definitely, that is the Biggie.
But, as I mentioned last week, I realized my reaction to math is a classic PTSD thing and I know why. I also have this other thing that I thought was just a random weird quirk, but my reaction is just too severe for that. I hate having my mouth covered, and I mean hate it. But that’s not strong enough. I seriously cannot endure it, not for a second. I might not hurt you if you walked up out of the blue and put your hand over my mouth because I’ve worked on self control with this ever since the time my firstborn child was maybe 1 year old and we were snuggling and having a fun mommy-daughter moment on the bed while my husband was at work, and without warning she clapped both her little hands tightly over my mouth and just as much without warning the next second I knew, she was on the floor crying. I was horrified. I don’t even know exactly what happened, but clearly, in pushing her away from my mouth I also pushed her right off the bed without even knowing it. But I think it’s a PTSD trigger. I don’t exactly why, and to be honest, if I don’t remember why, I’d rather just keep it that way right now. I never reacted quite that extremely again, but my reactions were strong enough that none of my kids ever put their hands over my mouth more than once.
Another weird discovery- When I was in high school and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I had answers for them because I knew answers were required, but they were all fiction. I didn’t really believe I was going to grow up. I didn’t tell any adults this, but I did tell most of my friends that I did not see myself surviving high school. They were kids, too, so they mostly put it down to my macabre and/or devil may care reckless personality, which was also true. But hello, symptom 12: Feeling as if your future will somehow be cut short.
Kids and teens can present PTSD symptoms a little differently from adults. Here’s one list I found:
- Fear, worry, sadness, anger, feeling alone and apart from others, feeling as if people are looking down on them, low self-worth, and not being able to trust others
- Behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol
Well. I don’t think I was that aggressive, and I didn’t abuse drugs, so there’s that.
Impulsive is another character trait of kids with PTSD and I know I was pretty much off the chart for impulsive decisions. I thought it was a virtue. I have some very dark and ugly thoughts about all this, including precisely how I know that I was off the chart for impulsive decisions. I’m not speaking metaphorically or figuratively there- I was given a psychological test that indicated I had almost no impulse control at all, and there’s more to that which I am not yet ready to share.
I would not necessarily know these things without therapy, or at least, I would not accept them. My youngest brother also has PTSD and a few years ago when we were discussing our childhood he told me he didn’t see how on earth I didn’t have it, either. I don’t remember exactly what I said to him, but I know that thankfully I did not say this even though I do remember thinking it: ‘because I have God and you don’t.’
I wasn’t being smug- at least not intentionally so- it was more in sorrow than in smug- I was sad for him. Now? I don’t know. There’s a galaxy of empty space and unanswered questions in those three words.
I get frustrated when I think about it for a number of reasons, so I try not to- the above discoveries basically burst unbidden through holes in my defenses when I wasn’t looking. Just typing this out brought out a couple other memories of my own behavior that make me seriously question my judgement about how aggressive I was or was not as a child.
So there’s something therapy has done, but I don’t know how helpful it is to know that I’ve probably had PTSD since grade school and more recent incidents and the Event of which we do not speak piled on with all the ambulance rides and traumas of this year just basically put gas and a match to an already existing problem.
ON a more positive note:
I’ve made a few advances in things I can do each week. I get frustrated because I know from the outside, it looks like all the progress of a three toed sloth, but on the inside a journey of sixty feet is like a marathon. Saying a word I have not been able to say aloud is like climbing a mountain, and just as exhausting.
Here’s what some progress looks like:
Usually, I watch movies until I fall asleep against my will and without my knowledge OR I do the same by listening to loud and raucous K-Pop (seriously, who else puts herself to sleep listening to songs like this one because it’s calming?). Instead, thrice in the last 7 days I managed to go to sleep on purpose before 4 a.m. by sprinkling my sheets and pillow liberally with lavender oil, sniffing deeply and on purpose and concentrating on the smell while listening to Pachelbel With Nature’s Ocean Sounds. Okay, before 4 a.m. means by 3 a.m. two out of three of those days, but still. And also, one of the three days when thunder woke me up I had to resort to movies again. But again, still.
I went someplace twice last week and twice the week before, and two of them weren’t to therapy.
Last week I mentioned the one activity that I really cannot do without drenching myself in panicked sweat within about 20 minutes. Well, I still can’t. I might have a better grip on why (or not, the jury is still out, but I’m working on it). In addition to figuring out the why, I’m working on working around it- this is not going to work long term, but it helps for now (that’s a lot of uses of the word ‘work’). I make a plan before I start, I set the timer, and I go work on doing that thing, being in that place, for at least ten minutes. Sometimes I’ve gone over 20 but that’s been a mistake every time. Waterboarding territory, and here there be most foul and horrendous dragons.
This morning I tried moving my base of operations to the adjacent room, so that I only have to be in that space that for some reason triggers me so badly for a couple minutes at a time. I managed to stretch out my time working on that stuff to almost an hour that way, but I spent only about fifteen minutes total in the ‘trigger room,’ which also helped me confirm it’s that room in my house, not the activity, which is one more indication I’m right about the cause (updated to add that I don’t really know why I am being so mysterious about this- the room is my kitchen, and I think the cause is merely that I was in the kitchen when I got some very upsetting and frightening news this year, and I paced back and forth in the kitchen for almost an hour, I think, before we got word back that made everything mostly okay, and then I stuffed it and set it aside and almost forgot it completely because that seemed easiest, and it came back to haunt me).
A lot of things make me very angry. Some of them are legitimately issues that are wrong, some not so much, and some of the legitimate ones it just doesn’t matter how angry I am, they are what they are. This week it helped me a lot to just tell myself, “this is probably not as big a deal as you think it is, it’s just your PTSD brain doing what it does.”
I started using tension tamer tea in my green smoothies. Probably that’s just in my head, but I’ll take what I can get.
I use my lavender bottle like sniffing salts. In all seriousness, I like essential oils for a handful of medicinal or cleaning uses (about five) that I consider legitimate enough to stand up to scientific testing. Sniffing Lavender oil to derail an oncoming PTSD meltdown is not one of them- because I don’t think it’s the lavender essential oil that’s working, it’s me focusing on something physical that I really, really love, and I’ve always been one to notice smells.
On this screening test my score is a 79 and nothing is below a 3. But a couple months ago my score was higher and nothing was below a 4.
I did two or three things this week and last week that I wasn’t able to do last month. They were seemingly small things to most people, but it was a huge deal to me.
So I guess that means therapy is helping.
P.S. So, yes, I’m continuing.