“There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.” ―
In nearly everything I write, when I speak about my new life with PTSD I often talk about it being a chronic illness for me; something that isn’t ever going to go away.
I have a tendency to say “I think it is always going to take me a little bit extra” when I envision future scenarios similar to those that have already caused me great strife; constantly comparing myself to how other’s will respond and feel.
Is what I am saying true?
Most people living with PTSD would say yes.
Yet, I wonder – what if I’m giving myself an easy out?
Living with PTSD is emotionally exhausting and it hurts, a lot; facing it and trying to manage it is challenging and uncomfortable. My anxiety is out of control at times, my depression gets the best of me – and seriously, the flashbacks and body memories, ugh.
Is it really as impossible to move past PTSD, or is accepting that it will always be something I have to ‘manage’ just easier?
Reversing the effects of PTSD means facing everything that is familiar and easy about how I navigate and deal with my pain, and stopping that behavior, consciously, forever. It’s like a bad break-up. Life is never going to be the same if I chose this path. I will have to find new comforts, new familiars, new skills – a new me.
Maybe that is the most terrifying thing of all as a trauma survivor? Letting go of the identity that has kept me safe my entire life in order to truly heal and become a newer, more whole and connected version of me.
I talk about being that person all the time, but who is she, really?
I imagine this is why is it SO important to ensure children get the help they need as early as possible; so they don’t have to work on re-wiring 40 years of learned behavior and emotional responses once they realize the negative effects of their childhood.
So why am I bringing all of this up?
Last week I started a new job. I love the field I am working in so the job is a very good fit – but I have taken a position that causes me some anxiety.
Over the last few months, I have done some serious reflecting on repeat behavior in myself (as a result of unknown trauma triggers) due to events that have transpired recently, and over the course of the last few years of my life. I have had to face up to and process copious amounts of shame and embarrassment as I have worked on coming to terms with and accepting my own emotional triggers and responses.
Going into this new position has caused what feels like acute PTSD, in that I continue to deal with intrusive thoughts regarding my former place of work, the betrayals, and thus all the anxiety it brings with it.
My therapist always tells me to stop judging myself, to take my new awareness as knowledge and power for each new situation (rather than viewing it as proof of my inability).
With that in mind –
I am going to work on changing my behavior – not accepting it as a permanent life-long challenge.
I am not trying to minimize the PTSD that I live with. Or that you, reading this is living with. I don’t imagine my mental illness is going anywhere anytime soon. This type of healing isn’t overnight, and many of the injuries will never heal. My scars will always be there as a reminder of what I have endured, and what I have survived.
However, I am beginning to understand what I truly mean when I tell myself healing is a daily choice, not a final destination.
I just can’t believe that by acknowledging that, I have to sentence myself to a life of managing symptoms so overwhelming, getting out of bed is a task that can sap all the energy I have (and I currently have days like that).
How am I going to apply this you ask?
Lots and lots of therapy!!
Duh, right? 🙂
Seriously though, my best example and currently the place I will get the most practice is in a new position that I just took last week. As I get settled into the new job I definitely have my work cut out for me.
First, by honest reflection of myself and both past and present situations. Then a whole lot of uncomfortable work that will likely cause me anxiety and stress as I first embark. I hope (as other aspects of my healing have done) that this will get better, and easier, over time and with practice.
Second, boundaries. I like to be liked. Who doesn’t right? Still, for me, being liked is directly linked to my feelings of self-worth. I need to change this way of thinking.
In my new position as a manager- I cannot be bothered with whether my staff “likes” me. I have a job to do, which includes ensuring they do theirs. I mean, yes, of course, I want to be a friendly manager and I want to have a good working relationship with my staff, that makes life better for everyone and our company successful as a result – but I have to remember it is a working relationship.
I am also far more used to being a low man on the floor than in a position of authority, and while my skill set and experience qualify me for the job, I have to keep reminding myself of that. I am privy to all of the “closed door” conversations now. It is new territory for me.
Raise your hand if you are constantly reminding yourself of your age, maturity level, and both ability and right to do and feel as you like without “approval”. So annoying isn’t it?
Third, I also have an affinity for small-talk which I will have to get under control as it can blur boundaries with my staff, something I struggle with and which has caused me issues in the past
It’s like I have to be aggressive with myself in the behaviors I need to correct, diligently reminding myself of what I need to do – and not do. I have forty years of muscle memory committed to my current behavioral patterns.
Finally, and the most challenging of all – I have to truly not be bothered if a staff member doesn’t like me. As a manager, I will now be responsible for having pointed conversations with staff members if needed, I’ll be giving them tasks when work is slow, and they may not always like it. I am going to have to do more than simply say “someone else’s behavior has more to do with them, than me”. I am going to have to live it.
This kinda scares the crap out of me, if I am honest.
My brain doesn’t automatically respond properly to stressful situations; the hemispheres don’t communicate right, and a lifetime of overload on all the wrong hormones has caused my brain growth to be hindered. I just don’t respond like those who haven’t experienced the traumas I have.
Which means learning to sit with the shots of adrenaline and cortisol when they start firing during a situation that my brain is interpreting as danger – and keeping my mouth shut as I sort out the actual facts of the situation vs. my fight or flight reaction, for a proper response.
It means I have to learn how to recognize when I should be saying “I need some time to think about this” and taking my space. It means I have to learn what it looks and feels like when my inner child needs my comfort because she has been triggered and then remembering to be my adult self rather than acting out as she would.
I am super intimidated by the changes in my brain right now. My entire life, they have been in the driver’s seat, dictating how I have lived my life.
Still, I believe that I can permanently change my internal dialogue if I really commit to it.
I don’t want to be “managing” my PTSD another 20 years from now.
I recognize its place in my life right now, it is the result of my badass survival skills. But I want it to become an old friend; one that may occasionally try to visit, but nonetheless, one that was only around for a reason, perhaps even a season – but not a lifetime.
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