Archives for posts with tag: emotional resilience

I’m feeling frustration and despair, this morning (yep, still morning, and not even 4 hours into my day). I’m struggling to pull myself out of the emotional muck, and find perspective. I’m working through the tedious effort involved “letting shit go” and “moving on”. I’m forcing myself through practices that both my intellect and my experience tell me definitely work, but I’m also having to fight a frustrating, pervasive feeling of resistance to the effort, and futility about the likely outcome. This moment right here is hard. Not what I had planned or expected for this first day of the new year. :-\ Fuck 2020. I mean, so far…

PTSD is an absolute motherfucker of a mental health condition. No need to exaggerate, or attempt to persuade; if you’ve been there, you know. If you love someone who has PTSD, you know. Flare ups, episodes, freak outs, flash backs, cognitive distortions, and the frustration, despair, depression, guilt, sorrow, grief, or anger that follow any of those, aren’t as predictable as they might seem they would be, and come at us unexpectedly – in spite of the fairly lasting certainty that we’ll experience them again. Trust me, it’s not a pleasant sort of “surprise”.

I’m having a rough New Year’s Day. Well. Sort of. Right now, I mean. Actually, only about an hour of it was unpleasant. Confusing, surreal, and scary – also good descriptions. Now I’m just… sorting myself out and trying to find my way.

Are you having a rough New Year’s Day, too? Have you handled your self-care skillfully? Are you in a (physically) safe place? Have you taken time to breathe, maybe even meditate? Can you convince yourself to take a step back from the problematic moment? Can you take that a step further and reflect on impermanence (“this too shall pass”), and non-attachment (letting it go)? Can you put your spun up consciousness on pause long enough to reflect on the small things for which you can feel grateful (yes, even right now)? (Anger and gratitude don’t easily exist side-by-side in the same moment.) Do you have a useful distraction at hand (a healthy one), like completing a task that requires some focus, or simply reading a book? (Or writing… see? Here I am, and it does work pretty well, for me, generally; your results may vary.)

…When “things blow over” (assuming you didn’t wreck someone’s property, or injure someone, or do or say something with lasting serious consequences), at a minimum, you’re probably going to have to deliver real apologies to people affected by your PTSD (yeah, I know, it fucking blows, because you already know you most likely won’t receive the same in return, however hurt you feel by the circumstances; it’s not a fully equitable, reciprocal world, and human primates can be dicks – you’ve got to let that go, too, in favor of simply being the person you, yourself, most want to be, because there is real healing in that). An apology is a relatively small thing, isn’t it? Just deal with it, graciously, compassionately, and accept that your “issues” really do affect other people, in some ways every bit as much as your PTSD affects you directly, only… their experience is the only one they can actually feel. Your experience of being disordered, broken, wounded…? They only understand any of that in the abstract, and yes, even if they also have their own PTSD issues to deal with. We have a limited capacity to truly understand each other, however commonplace our experiences may be. We are each having our own experience. For people hurt by a loved one’s PTSD, those sincerely intended, genuine, unreserved and unconditional apologies for the damage done really do matter. Say you’re sorry so you can move the fuck on.

“Stop catastrophizing” may be some of the least useful “advice” ever offered from one human being to another. Just saying – it’s a lot like suggesting that someone should calm down, when they are upset. Well-intended, often potentially correct, inasmuch as it would be helpful (and wise) to do so, but… who can hear the words and then act on them with fond appreciation for the concern? Like… no one, ever. LOL Not how that works. Still… if you can, it’s worth taking the steps needed to shift gears from catastrophe and despair to something, anything at all, less bleak. Small steps are fine. Incremental change over time may be all we can rely on in such moments. While you’re at it… breathe.

One of the nuisances of PTSD is how long it can take to “bounce back”, emotionally (the chemistry of emotion is tricky shit). I’ve been less than consistent with my meditation practice over the past year, and it shows; my resilience is less reliable, less deep, less durable, and I feel it today – it may take me hours (instead of minutes) to recover a positive sense of self, and move on with my day open to any outcome other than this bullshit right here, now. I feel sapped, and vulnerable. I take another drink of this water (self-care 101; if you’ve been crying, you need to drink more water), and remind myself that my “episodes” were once much more severe, lasted a great deal longer, did real damage, and the recovery period was measured in days and weeks, not hours, or minutes.

Progress made is not lost just because one moment goes sideways – it just feels that way. Expect that to be a thing, and be willing to give yourself a fucking break. This shit is hard.

Every word of this today is for me, now. I write, and read it back, paragraph by paragraph, as I go. I am reminding myself, practice by practice, of what it takes to maintain emotional wellness, and attempting to make good on that promise to myself. The feeling of internal resistance has dissipated, which is progress.

In the background, I hear my Traveling Partner slaying monsters of one variety or another; video games are another excellent “escape strategy” when a peaceful morning explodes in emotional chaos. He’s got his own hard mile to walk, and I don’t doubt being my partner makes that all much more complicated. I listen to the measured cadence of his game-play, and find it calming. I pause my writing long enough for a self-inventory of where I’m at right now. I still feel sort of muted and a bit blue, and may be prone to being easily hurt (emotionally) for some hours to come. I put that aside, reminding myself not to take shit personally. My head aches. The ringing in my ears almost deafens me if I turn my attention to it. I feel wrung out. Fatigued. Emotionally bruised. Having a bite of lunch helped. Drinking some water helped, too. The lingering feeling of personal failure and disappointment is a bummer, but, and this is true; it’ll pass.

Hell of a start to a brand new year. I expected better of the day – and of myself. It’s not “too late”, though. I can hit the reset button, any time I choose… right? I consider how best to make use of the moment; there is growth and momentum in mastering the chaos and healing the damage (more than any pleasant easy moment can offer). It’s definitely time to begin again… again.

In many respects the waking moments of this morning were very similar to yesterday. It’s been a lovely morning so far. Yesterday ended well. I bounce back more easily these days.

Today is beautiful.

I take time to smell the roses.

My difficulty bouncing back from emotional storms, bad days, and stressful circumstances used to result in days upon days of being stuck in some awful place, mired, picking at some emotional wound rather pointlessly, until… Until when? That was part of the thing; I wasn’t taking effective action to support myself emotionally, to calm or soothe myself, or to actually address both the circumstances I struggled with – and the struggling itself; I was sort of waiting around until change happened. (It will, and it does, but it’s an uncomfortable and damaging approach, I find.)

I take an active approach to emotionally supporting myself these days because it isn’t possible to be entirely emotionally supported by everyone else – by anyone else – realistically (or fairly); we are each having our own experience. At some point, I decided to go ahead and have it – hurts, and messiness, and frustrating challenges, and  painful decisions, and fear of failure, and all the rest of the maelstrom of chaotic details that is just one human life – mine. Yielding to it, giving in to it, embracing it – and participating with enthusiasm, turned out to also give over all the love, the laughter, the joy, the wonders and delights, the excitement, the sensuous thrills, and all the sweet details of a life well-lived, time well-spent, and loved ones cherished. I learned that, for me, the connections matter more than the monsters in the darkness.

It’s a journey. It’s not over. 🙂

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It’s a lovely morning, and a good time to begin again.

Today feels good. I’m glad I took care of myself yesterday, and didn’t take a couple stressful hours personally. I woke this morning feeling whole and beautiful, and wrapped in contentment. Today is a good day to enjoy that about me while it lasts. That’s enough. 🙂

It’s seems true that when I become complacent I put myself at risk of failure, mostly by decreasing my moment-to-moment awareness of all the other sorts of risk. If I stop paying attention, I am more likely to misjudge distance, make a mistake, or make a choice that seems useful in that moment, unaware what a poor fit it will be for the next. Things get broken.

I don’t break very much stuff, generally, but I also live the self-perception that I ‘am clumsy’ and am (or if not now, once was) inclined to break things ‘by accident’ through careless handling. I got yelled at a lot for it (and worse). Over time, I developed careful habits and as an adult in her 50s (and as far back as my late 20s), I rarely break things. I do now and then; I am human. For so many years, breaking or losing something would just devastate me – it felt like a portion of my memory and experience were being ripped from my grasp, each possession being a sort of totem or artifact of some particular experience or memory. I learned, over time, to cling to possessions – not because having  material goods is a big deal, but each precious thing holds the power to bring my memory to life, and I don’t want to forget.

Someone else breaking something of mine has been easily able to wound me on a deeply emotional level – particularly if the damage is willfully wrought by angry hands. It has been traumatizing. Damaging. Part of that pain likely comes from the incorrect assumption that someone else has any real capacity to understand how much pain such things can cause me, and that they know how they are hurting me – it’s doubtful they do; it’s not rational-reasonable-appropriate. That thinking is part of the chaos and damage. To be so easily hurt by something being broken has long been part of who I am. The willful breaking of a lovely stemless wine glass by someone in a fit of rage permanently changed a promising long-term relationship, for example; that person never looked the same in my eyes, and I lost all ability to feel comfortable or secure around that individual, compounded by their lack of concern, lack of caring or awareness, and the lack of even a pro forma apology, the experience said things to me I could not ignore. But…

We've all got baggage.

We’ve all got baggage.

The baggage is my own, and it’s been heavy to lug around so much attachment to so many things. Like Jacob Marley’s chains. Oh, shit – is that the point of that? I just got that.

Details

Hand-crafted luggage.

Last night as I moved through the small hallway of my apartment, I noticed… my foot. I have two of them, they are right there at the bottom of my legs, and I’m often standing on them. I generally have no real awareness of the compression of feet to floor and body above, but for a moment my left foot felt strange – like I had trod across scotch tape, or gum, or… like something was sticking to the bottom of my foot. I stopped where I was and reached out for balance, standing on one foot. I grabbed the top of my desk (meaning, I think, to put my hand on the wall), forgetting that the hutch has remained free-standing all this time – because when I moved in, I was not sure this would be the permanent placement for the desk. (You know where this is going, right?) I jostled that hutch, and it wobbled a bit – and everything on top came crashing down, bouncing off the desk, off the keyboard, off the chair, spilling memories and small bits of things all over the floor. As I exclaimed, I grabbed the edge of the hutch firmly and steadied it; it didn’t fall.

Memories everywhere. Broken small breakables…everywhere. Well, not everywhere – just all over the carpet in a blast pattern from the desk to the kitchen. Something important didn’t break – and this is the point of this entire bit of writing this morning; the one thing that didn’t break, the most important thing, is my heart. No tears. No freak out. No despair or devastation. No feeling that these memories were now ‘gone forever’. No sense that I had ‘lost everything’. No fear that I would not be able to ‘fix it before anyone notices’. No terror. I wasn’t even mad. It was an ‘oh, damn, well let’s get that cleaned up’ sort of moment, and nothing more. This stopped me in my tracks, briefly . I sat down, took stock of the chaos, and then got to work picking it up, filled with a feeling of love and compassion for the years that I carried so much pain over such tiny things, and finally understanding how connected the experience was to the domestic violence in my first marriage, as much as to my injury; although I noticed the lack of sorrow and tears, what stood out most last night was the lack of fear.

There were some casualties, but it is the memories that are precious, more than the things.

There were some casualties, but it is the memories that are precious, more than the things.

I spent the remainder of the evening in a celebratory mood. It’s worth celebrating incremental change, and growth and healing over time. I savored the experience of feeling calm in the face of the sudden disarray of precious things, and I enjoyed handling each broken item with joy and contemplation of its significance and appeal. I sorted things as I went… this one can be fixed… this one turns out not to matter much… this one isn’t damaged… this one is beyond repair… this one might become something new… No tears. I wondered, at the time, if I would at some point suddenly find myself weeping with some small object clutched in my hands, hysterical with sorrow, as has happened so many times. It hasn’t happened yet. I am not that woman, now.

I think it is worth observing that while I find this a profoundly positive bit of growth, I didn’t chase it down aggressively and practice practices targeting the experience of despair and grief over the loss of small things. The improvement was a ‘freebie’ – a byproduct of practicing practices, general good self-care, improving my relationship with myself, learning to treat myself as well as I also want to treat others, and improving on my sense of perspective in life. Incremental change over time being what it is, once I had changed enough, I noticed it. Last night was like an unexpected gift from a loved one – only this one is from me, to myself (and still manages to be a surprise).

Learning to treat myself well, and take care of me with skill feels like a homecoming.

Learning to treat myself well, and take care of me with skill feels like a homecoming.

Today is a good day to take care of me. As it turns out, practicing good self-care can change the way the world feels. 🙂

There’s a quality every yesterday shares with all the other yesterdays; they are in the past. Sometimes that’s a sad thing, because we enjoyed the day so much while it was ‘today’. I will admit that yesterday – the yesterday that was most recently today, and is not now, having become yesterday in the most clearly defined way – is not a day I’m sad to see in the past. Yesterday was a difficult day. I hadn’t slept well the night before, but woke feeling good and enjoying the morning, it didn’t last because… well… hormones, mostly, I guess. Not much to be done there but wait it out, treat myself gently, and show great consideration and courtesy to others – and hope for the best.

The evening was okay. No big blow ups, no significant stress, no baggage; I retired for the evening shortly after I got home, moodily wrote for a while, and crashed out early. The writing won’t see sunlight; it was hormone-fueled, angst-y, discontent, and sad. Not share worthy, just very human. Keeping to myself was more a matter of caring for my family, than a self-care practice; the storms and tantrums that sometimes result from the combination of fatigue, hormones, and a disinhibiting brain injury are pretty nasty to go through – and quite possibly worse for the loved ones who must helplessly bear witness. It is by far the easier to choice to reduce the potential for such things completely, by withdrawing to a quiet private space with less stimuli. I kept an eye on the clock and was firm with myself about going to bed ‘on time’; I needed the sleep, for sure, but the routine itself provides structure that helps me maintain balance.

I slept last night. I slept deeply, and I slept through the night. I needed the sleep. I woke with some difficulty when the alarm went off, and I suspect if I were horizontal right now, I’d be asleep in seconds. The hormones are a component of my sleep challenges, which is more obvious now that they are entirely of the replacement variety. At some points in my natural cycle, as well as on this replacement, there’s a particular point at which my estrogen level seems to drive wakefulness; I don’t know with any certainty if it is the high or the low, or an intermediate level that complements some other feature of my biology. I’m not doing the science – I am living the experience. My observations are subjective.

We all need restful moments, and real rest, to recharge for the next challenge.

I need restful moments, and real rest, to recharge for the next challenge.

When I am tired or run down, great mornings hold greater potential to become difficult days later on; I lack emotional resilience when I am fatigued. By the time I am really aware that the emotional weather of the day is changing, I’m often already drenched in the sudden downpour, unprepared. I think I could easily address the ‘unprepared’ piece, though, if I go forward with more awareness of how fatigue does affect me – and that the effect is often not felt immediately, but later in the day. Being prepared is sometimes enough to change the outcome of events that tend to follow a pattern. 🙂

Today is a whole new day. I am still dealing with the hormones; hot flashes and nausea this morning. I’m in a decent mood, though, and I feel rested. Being well-rested is a very big deal.

I hear the household waken, early. I resist the impulse to rush into morning interactions; I’m quite honestly not at my best first thing, and I’m still waiting for my pain medication, and morning coffee to kick in for the day. 🙂 Good self-care is sometimes about simple practices, and discipline learned over a lifetime; I try to stay to myself first thing in the morning, until I am really awake.

It’s interesting to note that I’ve been finding a great deal of value, recently, in reading literature regarding development of executive function in children; it tends to shed light on the tantrums, the fury, and loss of emotional regulation…things we see, and even expect, in young children but that appall us in adults. The literature has enhanced my understanding of why some practices do seem to genuinely improve the state of my overall executive function over time, while other practices provide soothing, comfort, or ease the social impact of behavior widely viewed as uncomfortable or inappropriate from a woman of 52 (even by family members). Even practicing good practices, there is a desirable balance of outcomes to find; if all my best self-care practices are focused on easing the impact on loved ones, rather than improving my own experience, I could predictably be facing a whole lot of resentment down the road – and no real change in my own experience, internally. If I focus entirely on self-care practices that tend to take a longer view, improving my emotional resilience over time, potentially building lost executive function, but take no steps to ease the day-to-day stress of living alongside this injury, complicated by post-traumatic stress, I am less likely to make the progress I am seeking – because I will likely lack support from loved ones who don’t ‘see the work in progress’ as easily day-to-day, and don’t benefit from it, themselves.

A lovely spot for a moment of meditation; is that about time or place?

A lovely spot for a moment of meditation; is that about time or place?

Balance. Perspective. Verbs. (Your results may vary.)

Today is a good day to smile. Today is a good day to practice good practices. Today is a good day to exist right now, unconcerned by yesterday’s moments. Today is a good day for good practices, and the secure knowledge that incremental change over time can be a subtle thing – but it is a thing. 🙂

I’m still sick. I’m taking advantage of the weekend to take care of my health. I have no other plans today. I am still hopeful that I’ll be over this in time for my camping trip in a few days…if not, I’ll have to decide whether to cancel or just go and tough it out – maybe find out just exactly what I’m made of under even more trying conditions.

I giggle at myself thinking about my middle-aged, suburbanite, white-collar self considering a few days of camping in a state park very near to home to anything like ‘trying conditions’ or a test of endurance of any sort. Somewhere in the distance of time long past, a much younger, more rugged me looks on with some measure of friendly disdain – not meaning to be mean, but me then was just not that patient with people’s notions. lol

Not quite wilderness close to home.

Not quite wilderness close to home.

So sure, today I am putting me first, but that’s not the point of the title at all. “Me First” is a practice, and it’s one that I am currently turning over in my head to add to my SuperBetter  game; I haven’t decided if it serves best as a ‘Quest’ or a ‘Power Up’. Over my morning coffee, I answer some basic questions for myself, such as ‘is this something I do for a course correction, or an emotional boost, or is it something I need to practice, reach for as a goal, and strive to achieve?’ and ‘is this an experience?’ and ‘can I put a face to it?’ Most of my ‘Bad Guys’ are issues and challenges (personal demons) that I can easily ‘face’ more effectively if they wear actual faces. lol

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

My “Me First” practice is a cognitive tool to improve emotional resilience by building a sense of perspective, improving my ability to respond to others with compassion, and to foster quick recognition of shared human experience, when I may be inclined to react in a judgmental way, or feeling resentful. “Me First” is simply the practice of observing the judgment or resentment with a high level of honesty and acceptance, and mindful awareness of how I, myself, experience a similar circumstance ‘if the shoe were on the other foot’. I put myself in the other person’s experience very deliberately, and challenge myself to understand how it may be something we have in common, and how human it is. Before I start emotionally or intellectually ‘stoning’ someone, I practice looking to myself – is there really room to criticize? (There rarely is.) Is there room for compassion, encouragement, a moment of humor or Schadenfreude? (There usually is.) Instead of being critical – and understanding that criticism is generally a poorly worded request for change – is there something I can do meet my own needs more simply (like making a clear and gentle request for change)? Can I apply that understanding and perspective to this other human being and possibly do something to meet their needs? That’s the lovely thing about my “Me First” practice – it’s not ‘me first over and above whatever you need, and go fuck yourself for your trouble’, not at all; it’s ‘let me take care of me first, work out some of these issues I’ve obviously got, get my head right and see what we can do together, to meet shared needs, and understand each other’.  Before I criticize someone else, I launch this practice and I check myself – and use the object lesson to work on me, first – because realistically, I don’t actually get to work on anyone else. None of us do. Not really – and attempting to take that power of self management, and autonomy away from someone with criticism, judgmental remarks, or intimidation and controlling behaviors is in a category of ‘bad acts’ I consider emotionally abusive. I definitely don’t want to be doing something to other people that I consider abuse.

What a wonderful thing – you get to make all your own choices about these things, yourself, and my notions of what is or is not abusive doesn’t dictate your choices! Fantastic! Ideally, it’s all sort of self-adjusting, isn’t it? If we treat someone poorly, or abuse them (physically or emotionally), surely they don’t stick around for that, and we find ourselves bereft and alone, as we would surely deserve for our bad acts…right? Well, not always, and sometimes tragically so. Learning not to stick around for more abuse is one of the things I work on, myself. It’s not always easy. My sense of loyalty is far more well-developed than my sense of when I may be over-compromising my values, or allowing myself to be mistreated emotionally. As a younger woman, some portion of my identity was wrapped up in whether my relationships ‘succeeded’, but the definition of success wasn’t my own, and I stuck around for some heinous shit. We are each having our own experience, too. What injures me, or hits damaged bits related to my PTSD, or may be of more concern because of my TBI, may not at all be what hurts you as an individual. (Clearly there are some experiences that could universally be recognized as abuse, but this is not about that.)

Learning good self-care, for me, also means learning to recognize when I am treated well, when I am treated poorly – and what amount of poor treatment is unacceptable, rather than an incidental and unintended by product of someone’s humanity. So I practice treating myself well, and I also practice treating others well; because I am not a blameless victim in my experience of life – I am living it, and I too make poor choices, or fall short of ideals, or ‘drop the ball in the big game’. I’m very human. I honestly don’t find it acceptable to criticize someone for issues I have myself, things I am also prone to do, or stuff that’s just shared human experience needing to be managed or learned from; so I am practicing doing something differently, and walking my own path to be the woman I most want to be, myself, on my own terms.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

I’m also not smug about this stuff, and I struggle. These are my challenges, more than my triumphs, and I have more questions than answers. You’re welcome to take whatever value you find in my words; your results may vary. There are verbs involved. 🙂

I tried learning to treat others well, without taking care of me, without addressing my own needs first, without really putting in the time to learn what treating others well really meant. It was not an effective effort.  I don’t find attempting to care for me to the exclusion of treating others well to be a good fit; it nearly always feels like I am treating people poorly as a default decision. Balance wins again, and perspective; treating myself well matters a lot, and treating others well isn’t even truly possible to do with skill if I don’t start with me…but putting myself first by taking good treatment away from others turns out not to be very good self-care at all. It’s quite an interesting puzzle.  I found the realization that ‘good treatment’ is defined by the person experiencing it, rather than the person taking the action being experienced, very valuable; it’s not about the intention of the person delivering the words or behaviors at all, and that’s important to understand.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

I am sick today, and it’s raining; today is a good day for puzzles. Today is a good day for first-rate self-care. Today is a good day to treat the hearts of others just as well as I treat my own – knowing that I treat my own heart very well indeed, well… practicing the practices, at least. There’s still a journey ahead. 🙂