Archives for posts with tag: sometimes it’s hard

I sit awhile, coffee untasted, headphones on without music, listening to the sound of the computer fan, staring into the blank white abyss of an empty page. My fingers are frozen, poised ever-so-lightly on the keyboard. Mind temporarily paralyzed by the remnants of a powerful fight-or-flight reaction to unexpected harsh words first thing upon waking. Humans being human. Things, generally, are so improved over years past (distant past, at this point, really), that I forget about the PTSD, until I stumble over it. In a flash of circumstance or temper, I’m mired in it, again. Reeling from a flood of powerful emotions, followed by a flood of tears, I’m still shaken, more than an hour later. Vulnerable, and a bit fragile, I retreat to the solitude of my studio, until I can get myself past this moment, and sort out the chaos and damage from what is steadfast and true, reliably real, and less about some damaged moment that is not now.

…This is hard. I’m “out of practice”, I guess, and for that, I am grateful.

The tears erupt again, and spill over, making the text on the page distorted and surreal. Am I okay? Sure. For most values of “okay”, I’m okay. Certainly, I am okay right now, and I am safe, and there is nothing to fear here in this place – or in this relationship. I remind myself, and look around, here, now. Leftover baggage that I may carry for a lifetime weighs me down a bit, that’s all. I deal with it privately, as often as I can. Very few people are actually qualified to “help with this”. I already have the tools, and the practices, and the experience (of an entire lifetime of chaos and damage), to handle the self-care and emotional recovery on my own. With those things in mind, it’s beyond unreasonable to attempt to get help from my Traveling Partner right now.

Reaction? Over-reaction. I recognize that, and begin the tender work of caring for this fragile vessel. Taking care of the physical details will build the strongest foundation for the emotional needs yet to be met. I make myself sip my coffee. It tastes quite fucking awful this morning. It’s a matter of perspective. There is no comfort in it; I’m just making sure I don’t set myself up for failure, later, with a caffeine headache. That’d just be dumb. I take an Rx pain reliever for my physical pain. It’s a rainy spring day and my arthritis is what woke me early this morning, before I was really ready, or fully rested. No point letting that become a thing of greater significance later on. I blow my nose and dry my eyes. I take an antihistamine to combat seasonal allergy symptoms. I correct my posture. I do some yoga. I meditate. All of these individual self-care details help re-stabilize me. Give me distance from that one difficult moment. Build reserves for the moments to come; no way to know what those hold. My subconscious is still shrieking alarms bells at me, as if there is a legitimate concern, where none actually exists.

Fuck PTSD.

I breathe, exhale, relax. I let all of that go. Again. More slow tears. Another breath.

More practice.

I know I’ll take that next step of seeking a positive distraction to occupy my waking consciousness, and move on from this, fairly soon. I’m far more well-equipped for these experiences than I was 7 years ago. Yeah. 7 Years. More. It’s a long journey, not gonna lie. There are verbs involved. I’ve had to begin again ever so many times. In the past, I’ve been hard on myself sometimes to the point of inflicting additional damage. I think I’m past that, now. There are still hard moments. Being human doesn’t come with any sort of manual, life doesn’t have a clear map to follow. Sometimes shit is hard. Ridiculously difficult, and over what seem the most trifling of details. It is what it is. We are what we are. It’s a journey, and in most practical regards, it’s a solo journey; we’re each having our own experience.

I breathe, exhale, relax. I let all of that go. Again. No tears this time. Another breath. I feel calm. Practical. Resolved. Understanding. Compassionate. Still a little fragile, but I’m ready to begin again.

Again.

I woke ahead of the alarm, and realized groggily that I never wrote a word that wasn’t in the service of my employer yesterday. Wow. So unlike me. I’m tired. The lovely weekend comes at a price, and that price is fatigue. My disrupted sleep unavoidably has its moment to weigh in on my well-being.

I scroll lazily through my feeds, not really reading, just skimming headlines and posts in the weird “I used too few words” extra-large font. I’m not yet awake. The delicious fragrant mug of chai tea (with almond milk) definitely takes longer than a cup of strong coffee. I’m sneezing a lot this morning. My throat is a little… raw. Shit. I hope I’m not coming down with a cold. The timing is poor; I have a life to live and shit to get done. lol

Walking and thinking – a favorite practice for gaining perspective.

Yesterday, I forgot I had a late meeting on my work calendar, and got into the office at the usual very early hour. Early enough to get a lovely 2 mile walk in, along the waterfront. Early enough to get back to my desk, still quite a bit earlier than I had planned to be in – or needed to be. It was a long day, with very little leisure in it. I was pretty glad, by the end of the day, to have taken that walk in the morning. I was less pleased with the commuter traffic when I hit the road heading home around 5:30 pm. Wow. So glad I am generally home earlier. lol

This morning I find a lot to be content with, and it feels good.

I sip my tea and let my mind wander to the day-to-day misery and drama of being a woman in America. My feed is filled with it. Fuck. I’m grateful for menopause, and being generally beyond many of those storms now. You could not pay me to go back to being in my 20s (or 30s), particularly if it meant also having to return to that volatile emotional world of extreme highs and lows, and strange chaotic emotions. I wish I could sit with each of my agitated, distressed, sorrowful, wounded, beautiful friends, listen and let them feel truly heard, give them hugs, and maybe, just maybe find some way to share practices – or perspective. It’s a chasm that is quite difficult to cross, though. I can remember so many similar situations in which an “older sister” or elder in my life did attempt to communicate to 20-something me that this would pass, that I could master and, yes, even control my reactivity – with practice. I could not really fathom what was being said to me. I didn’t believe what I heard when it was shared with me. I did not follow through on any of the practices that were suggested. It was all completely out of reach. I wasn’t ready.

(I still try.)

I’m not saying their experiences “aren’t real” – not at all. Those chaotic emotionally difficult experiences are wholly real, in the sense that they are being experienced, for real. Totally real. Even, in fact, and like it or not, entirely appropriate and reasonable, from some points of view. Culturally, we don’t treat women well. This has unavoidable outcomes in the emotional health of women. We each play a part in creating that culture, and hurting our women. We could do better. (They can do better, too, but it’s a tale for another day, perhaps.)

This morning, I’m just sipping my tea and trying to wake up, and wondering how it is that so many of us, as human beings, being human, are so terribly unhappy… and wondering what I could do to help in any small way. Incremental change over time is slow. So slow. Change does happen, though, and we do become what we practice…

It’s the practicing that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Yeah. Here, too. I do “try”… but… and this is a thing… it’s really more about doing. Many of the practices that have helped me most with emotional volatility require me to “let go” – to practice non-attachment – which means having to yield to circumstances, and give up that righteous feeling of whatever I am feeling so righteously. lol An urgent desire to “be right” – and holding on to that feeling – creates so much fucking misery, and often on many sides of a discussion. I noticed more than once or twice that once I am attached to feeling righteous about something, I’m no longer willing to listen at all, and everything I hear is run through a filter that demands my position be defining for everyone’s experience. I gave up, quite purposefully and deliberately, the “need” to be right. It’s not helpful. (I learn more if I’m wrong, anyway, and often circumstances just aren’t even that clearly defined.)

Listening is hard. It is quite frankly one of the most demanding practices I practice each day. I often thoroughly suck at listening deeply, listening with my full attention, listening skillfully… It takes a ton of practice. Here’s the thing, though, a lot of my experiences of contentment, and balance, have their source in listening – and rarely have their source in talking, in expressing myself, or in “being right”. (Here’s where I slip in a reminder that “listening deeply” needs to be something I also do for myself; really hearing the woman in the mirror, understanding my experience and needs, also requires practice.)

One very cool thing about practicing practices, though? It doesn’t matter at all how many times I fail to “get it quite right”… I can keep practicing. I can begin again. 🙂

I woke feeling well-rested and content, and  I got a great start to my day – even on the professional side, or so it seemed, initially.

Like most people, I am not universally skilled at all things – personal or professional. It’s been pretty well confirmed over time that if my symptoms flare up (PTSD), or my brain injury gets in the way of getting things done, like dominoes falling in sequence more challenges begin to pile up, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. This morning, a ‘what the fuck?’ moment of frustration quickly developed into the sort of challenges I can’t easily manage in the office, and I made the choice to get out of the challenging environment, head for home and take care of me. I knew as I walked home in the chilly autumn sunshine that I would be more easily able to support myself in the quiet safety of my wee place, surrounded by green and contentment.

Home.

Home.

There’s been some construction in the community. My windows were recently replaced. Then a tree was removed – part of a ‘drainage improvement’ project. Not easy experiences – but I got over it, and the overall look of things has remained substantially unchanged… (You know where this is going, right?)

Today, when I get home, things are very different indeed.

Today, when I get home, things are very different indeed.

Speechless. Also just at the edge of becoming enraged by frustration, and a feeling of being actively undermined – professionally and personally – at every turn, if not by the willful intent of human beings, certainly by circumstances. This is hard. Frustration is my kryptonite, and I’m not even super.

Now I’m home… my feeling of safety is destroyed by the continuous sound of the voices of strangers shouting over machinery – on all three sides of my apartment (3 different work crews: painters, a pipe crew with a ditch witch, and a crew of…well…carpenters on the roof, or roofers doing carpentry). My sound sensitivity increasing rapidly to the point where sounds will actually seem… psychologically painful. (Is that the right phrase for this experience, I wonder?) My ability to sooth myself is shattered by the combination, and the tears I will no doubt cry sometime soon are beginning to queue up waiting for the next thing I can’t take more of. Just fucking great, right? I come home to take care of me… and… now what? Please tell me – now what? I’m even completely alone, no reassuring hug from my traveling partner, or anyone else, unless I want to step outside and start randomly asking construction guys for hugs. There is no human comfort to be had until I have to force myself into the world to get to my therapy appointment on the other side of town – using mass transit – at which point I can pay another human being a lot of money to spend an hour with me at arm’s length.

Sorry. You’re ‘seeing me’ at what is my current near-worst. I hope you understand that, for the moment, being heard is the best thing I can do for myself – even if it is the being-heard-at-a-distance of writing words that someone else will read from far away. It actually counts for a lot, so… thank you for being here. So…what else can I – what else will I do? Things. There are things to do that will help – the harder part is accepting that each thing may only help some tiny tiny seemingly insignificant amount, and that it is critically important to go ahead and do each and every one to get to the best possible self-supporting outcome. It’s harder than I’d like it to be in the moment.

  1. I’m going to put on some music to mask some of the background noise; I choose Squarepusher, and turn it up louder than I might ordinarily, because some of the noise of the machinery will tend to blend in and fool me into perceiving more music than noise.
  2. I make a soothing hot beverage (no stimulants, though); the heat of the cup in my hands is comforting, and enjoying a cup of tea requires me to slow things down and take a minute for me.
  3. I make a point of alerting the construction crews politely that I am at home, and ask that they be courteous about the noise as much as possible; given a chance, people are frequently fairly kind and accommodating when they are aware that a veteran with PTSD is struggling nearby.
  4. I sit down to write about my experience, without determining in advance whether this will be ‘for publication’ or not, freeing myself to ‘get it all out there’, and leave spelling, grammar, syntax, tone, clarity, and intent to be reviewed afterward. No self-censorship. No self-criticism. Just words.
  5. I review my self-care checklist and verify that meds and basics are handled, making any adjustments needed.
  6. I put the writing on hold for some little while, to meditate if I can (it’s really really noisy around her today), but that may have to wait for the work crews to go to lunch at noon.
  7. Yoga helps me relax my body – and right now every small bit of ease I can provide to myself is going to have value.

I’ve done what I can for now. Soon I’ll be leaving for my appointment, anyway. So far, step by step, practice by practice, I have dialed down my stress enough to feel calm and mostly okay. I am okay right now; it’s important to notice and reinforce the awareness to help build more positive implicit emotional memory, and emotional self-sufficiency.

Today is a good day to be a student. Today is a good day to practice the practices. Today I’m okay right now.

On a recent morning heading to work, I had an interesting moment with a fellow human. At the time, it was simple a moment I felt good about, later it became very important. Here’s The Parable of The Small Boy Waiting.

I walked into a crowded Starbucks on my way to work. I just wanted more coffee, and better coffee than the stale jet fuel served up in the break area at work, honestly. Waiting in the line of irritated commuters would be worth it, enough to make the slight detour – seriously, the coffee at work is quite terrible. I ordered my coffee and stood to the side to wait along with many other commuters standing to the side to wait for their better-than-the-swill-at-the-office coffees. At the edge of the throng of adults, mostly devotedly dedicated to quality time with their personal devices, I notice a small boy, waiting in a chair. His arms are folded tightly, his face has a grim, tense, possibly angry expression, he is sitting very still, as if by some unwitnessed force; he looked like he was having a shit day. I felt uncomfortable. I felt distressed. I wanted, somehow, to help. “Not your place.” My brain said. “Not your kid.” My brain said that, too. “You don’t know that there’s really anything at all wrong” my brain observed, and I struggled with myself – was there ‘something to do’ at all? Small boys also have bad days… fuck, life is hard for me sometimes – and I’m mostly pretty grown up…still…I don’t exactly feel ’empowered’ all the time, and I don’t always feel like I really have an edge just from being older…how much harder might life feel some days for a small boy?

He caught me watching him. Eye contact can be a very connected thing. Too late to ignore him without being a dick – so I spoke up, conversationally (I have no children, and don’t speak even a word of fluent ‘parent’, honestly, and interact with children rather as though they are small adults).  “Rough morning?” I said gently. He looked at me speculatively before answering in a low, reluctant voice “everything always sucks”. His tense face took on an angrier look, and he looked away, and down, still holding himself tightly. I look around, spot the utterly ordinary man who appears to be his dad, waiting at the counter with a sister-aged young girl. “Move long” says my brain, “nothing to see here.”  Instead I say to the small boy “That sounds like a lot to endure.” He looks up, curiosity overcoming his tension, and replies “I don’t know what that word means.” I smile at him, “To endure things means to have to deal with more than you think you can, and be able to because you are stronger than you realize.” He considers that thoughtfully for a moment, and sighs. I see a hint that tears may be lurking, waiting to fall, certainly an uncomfortable feeling in a public place. “I know another good word…” He waits, then asks “What is it?” “Mindfulness” I reply with a smile. “What does that mean?” he asks.

How much do I share about mindfulness with a small boy waiting in a Starbucks on a busy morning? What do I have to offer, really, that could help? Anything? My thoughts flip through all my own experiences on this complicated journey…what helped the most? I can only do my best – but he’s human, too, and clearly suffering…isn’t there always time for a kind word? “Mindfulness,” I begin “is taking a deep breath and being right here, right now – just that. It helps you find a moment that doesn’t suck so much, so you can rest, and be okay for when things might suck again.” He looked almost hopeful, hesitant, he glanced over at his dad before asking me “Does that work?” “Well…you can Google it, there’s lots to read about it…and…right now doesn’t really suck, does it? I mean…you’re okay, right now, yeah?” I smiled at him. He smiled back. “Yeah,” he admitted shyly “I’m getting hot chocolate with my Dad.” I smiled, again, and added “I like hot chocolate best when I can take a deep breath and really enjoy it – the taste and smell, and how it feels in my mouth.” The small boy grinned at me “But not on your shirt, though!” We laughed together. His shoulders relaxed and his arms unfolded. He began to swing his feet with the eager energy of childhood. My coffee was ready, and I went on with my day, after wishing him well.

It was just a conversation with a small boy, really. I smiled on the way to the office, because it felt good to be kind to someone having a difficult time. As I said…it mattered later.

Later eventually came, unexpectedly. I was at my desk at the time. Working. The phone rang – my cell phone. That’s odd during the work day, and odder still it was an out-of-state number that was not a toll-free number of some kind, and wasn’t a number my phone recognized. I answered the phone, and hearing the voice on the other end, my heart dropped. Utterly unexpectedly, without warning, my violent first husband phoned me. My alarms bells went off, my PTSD flared up, I sat trembling, hands sweating, barely able to speak – on the edge of panic. Why was he calling me? (Doesn’t matter.) How did he get this number? (Doesn’t matter.) Is he here? (Highly unlikely.) Does he know where I am? (Come on, now, how hard is that in the digital age? You moved – it’s not witness protection.) I fought down my terror, and kept the call short, polite, and ensured that I was firm and clear about my boundary, specifically stating that I do not want any contact with him. The call ended. The tears began. I shook for some time, helplessly taken over by my fears, and my symptoms.

I remembered the small boy, waiting. “You’re okay, right now, though, right?” I asked myself. I took a breath. I alerted my traveling partner of the distressing call – it felt safer to share, and to know that someone who loves me was aware I was in distress, and potentially ‘at risk’. I posted an observation that I had received a call from my ex to Facebook; the out pouring of support from friends who never met my ex, as well as the support and concern, of those who had, lifted me up and reassured me that I was not alone. I took a couple deep breaths, and showed myself compassion; the symptoms of my PTSD, themselves, are not pleasant to endure…but I am able to endure them. I’m stronger than I realize. More than once, I smile thinking about my conversation with the small boy…and how amazing life’s coincidences can be, when I slow down to experience them.

I am indeed okay right now. I was okay after I got home, no tantrum driven by panic, no weird behavior driven by fear – I mean, other than yes, actually checking under the bed and in my closets ‘for monsters’. My sleep was a bit disturbed, and falling asleep was harder; these are common experiences when my PTSD is triggered. By morning, though, I woke feeling myself. This morning, too…and yesterday’s busy workday was productive and in no way disrupted by the experience of the phone call the day before. This is all progress.

There are going to be days that are hard. There are going to be days when I come face to face with my fears, or feel the weight of my baggage more than others. I handle it better these days…but some day there may be time when I don’t handle things so well, or so easily. Kindness really matters. It matters when it is our friends, it matters from strangers. I keep practicing.

I will, thanks. :-)

I will, thanks. 🙂