Writing with PTSD

I’m writing this post in part to try and help myself.  I also recognize that it may help someone else.  Living with PTSD is a freaking mess.  It’s worse when something triggers the anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and all the other messy symptoms.

(warning, not gonna censor my language on this one)

I grew up in a level of hell that not everyone gets out of.  I was one of the lucky ones, I did get out.  I still didn’t have any security until I was in my 30’s.  I didn’t have healthy relationships until my mid-30’s.  A decade later, I have healthy relationships in my life.  I’ve evicted all my abusers from my life (most of whom were in my family), and part of why I live in New Mexico is to put as much physical distance between me and them as possible.

Overall, my life is better than ever.  My friends and remaining family are caring and supportive.  I’m able to be caring and supportive with them.  I have a stable job and a safe home.  I see my therapist weekly and keep working on fixing the parts that are still broken.  I’m writing!  I’m finally a published writer!  Something I’ve wanted since childhood!

Still, I do have PTSD and well, that’s a bitch of a vague diagnosis.  It encompasses anxiety, depression, self-loathing, self-doubt, a loss of ability to function beyond basic levels, and basically it fucks me over for days. I cycle through all of those symptoms, have trouble speaking at times because I just forget words.  Simple words even, like car, couch, cat, they all just vanish from my mind.  I have shaking that makes it impossible to hold on to things.  I drop stuff constantly.  I also sleep, lots and lots.  Sometimes the sleep is good, but mostly it’s just nightmares and stress.  I forget what I was doing, appointments I had scheduled, and so on.

It’s also problematic because I’ll be fine for a while and then something happens to hit one of those triggers and it feels like everything is undone.  Experience alone keeps me from giving up when that happens because I know that with care and the aid of my therapist, I’ll be alright again soon.

Last week, something happened that triggered me.  I don’t need to go into what happened or why it triggered the PTSD to come roaring to life again.  What it has done to me is make me miss an entire week of work.  FMLA is a god send at times like this because at least I don’t have to worry about getting fired.  (For readers outside of the US, FMLA is the Family Medical Leave Act.  It protects your job if you or a family member need time off to take care of a long-term health issue.)

I spent the first 4 days trying to sleep and failing.  According to my fitbit I was sleeping for about 4 hrs a night, but it was broken because of nightmares.  So basically, I managed naps in the middle of the night.  That was not helpful to handling the rest of the symptoms, let me tell ya.  Fighting off PTSD symptoms while exhausted is a bitch and a half.

My first book opened for pre-order on Monday, two days ago.  There have been orders every day so far.  I should be excited and bouncing off the walls with happiness and celebration.  Instead, I’m kind of meh about the entire affair.  Seriously, it’s great, but it’s a little hard to celebrate when your brain is being a stupid little shit and feeding your system every fear response imaginable.

I’m also not able to write, this time.  A lot of times, when things crank up the anxiety, I can write something and escape the idiot brain long enough to calm down.  Not this time.  Not many times when things happen.  Instead, it’s like there’s a noise in my head because there are things to write and stories waiting, but damned if I’m able to put down a single word.  So, no writing.  (Yeah, I know, I’m writing this.  This isn’t the level of writing I put into my stories.. not even close to the level of writing I put into my stories.)

If I start going long enough without writing, I now have a NEW fear that my brain is trying to feed me.  “What if I can’t ever write again!?”

Shut the fuck up brain!  We went 20 years without writing while other things were happening, and then dropped 60 chapters in 3 months.  I’m going to write again, and would be already if you would get the fuck out of my damn way!

So, yeah, this is life with PTSD.  Yay rollercoaster.  If I sound blase about it, it’s because I’ve lived with this for so long that now, while the symptoms make a mess of my life when they’re all wound up like this, it’s become annoying as fuck.  Like, why can’t this all just GO AWAY ALREADY!?  Gods above and below, enough!  Right?

Well, it can go away, and it will.

The biggest thing I’ve learned that helped me, beyond the two years of DBT therapy in my 20’s and the currently running EMDR therapy, is just taking care of myself.  Being gentle with myself is definitely a learned skill.  What does that look like though?

For starters, I’ve seen my therapist twice since being triggered and will see her again tomorrow.  That’s three sessions in 8 days.  I’ll probably have two next week as well.  Working with my therapist, getting help to handle the underlying stuff that got triggered, that’s step one in self care.

Step two is NOT kicking myself over it.  Success varies on this one.  I mean… I know that my team needs me at work.  I know that me not being there means the rest of the team is picking up my slack.  I hate doing it to them.  (Aside from just wanting to not have to deal with myself, which is also a thing.)  I have to remind myself, often, that if I were there, in the state I’m in, I’d fuck the entire team over. My work would hinder the team, not help.  Not being there is the right thing to do right now.  I have to apply the same logic to everything else I do and NOT beat myself up.

I also talk to my friends.  I don’t talk about the PSTD or how hideous I’m feeling, not in detail.  They know.  They know that I’m not functioning properly and I’m trying to get my feet back under me.  I don’t need to dump on them or make them feel like they need to do anything.  So we talk about their kids, the things they’re writing, their artwork, stupid memes, funny memes, cats, weather, and so on.  My friends rock, by the way.  I have the most hysterical group of people in my life.  They could make me laugh any time, no matter what else is going on.  They also show that they care in little ways, like reminding me that it’s getting late, or asking if I had anything to eat.  They know that I tend to lose track of time when I’m like this, and I then forget meals and such.

Since I can’t write this time, I do things other than writing.  I can’t really read either.  When I try to read I forget what I read two pages back and have to go back and read again.  It becomes a frustration instead of a help.  So, I watch movies.  Or I dig around on Crunchyroll and find new anime.  Yes, I love my anime.  Most of the stories are uplifting and encouraging.  They’re also usually quite engaging and they get me out of my head.

When I eat, I try to eat actual food.  I kinda failed at that last night when I ate a half a bag of candy bar minis, but I try.  I keep food in the house that I can toss in the microwave; home-cooked meals from when I wasn’t feeling like shit, and a few canned things.

I let myself nap, but I set a timer so that I only nap for an hour at a time.  Too much sleep is just as bad as too little sleep.

I drink water.  I drink lots and lots of water.

I keep ice packs in the freezer and when the shaking starts up, I get one out and hold it between my wrists or put it over my neck.  The cold sets off a response in my body that pushes the anxiety back.  Some people find relief with hot showers.  I can’t do that when I have anxiety.  For me, it’s ice packs.

I have playlists that I made just for dealing with PTSD symptoms.  There’s one that’s loaded with songs by Kitaro, which helps the anxiety.  There’s one that’s loaded with songs about overcoming problems, for when the doubts and fears hit.  I have a list for each separate set of troubles I run into with this mess.

I also found out that doing housework helps, if I can get myself started on it.  Doing the dishes, taking out trash, even just wiping off a counter, they all help to drive back the crap my brain is trying to feed me.  Also, seeing clean spaces keeps me from feeling like a complete failure as a human, because I was raised to see keeping house as one of those “basics” like being able to hold a fork properly.

There are a lot of things that can be done to help defeat PTSD symptoms.  These are just the “go-to” things.  This is where I start.  Other things I do are pulled from a long long list of self-care.

I know that I’m not alone in fighting PTSD, anxiety, depression, or a host of other mental health issues.  I’m going to say two things, because someone might need to hear it.

  1. It’s called a disorder because it’s something that doesn’t work.  If it worked properly, no one would notice, just like having a flat tire.  If the tire isn’t flat on your car, you probably don’t look at it much.  If it’s flat, the car can’t move until you fix the flat.
  2. It’s not something you’re doing, it’s something that happened to you.  (Thank you, Jim, for that wise statement.)  You did not wake up and decide to start crying uncontrollably just for kicks!  You did not start shaking because you wanted to see if your teeth can actually rattle loose!  It happened to you, beyond your control, and your body and mind are reacting.  What happened that gave you the problem, and the way your body and mind are trying to cope are NOT YOUR FAULT.

Take care of you, alright?  I’ll keep trying to take care of me, too.  We’ll all get through this.  We can do it.

If you need a hand getting through, here’s some resources for you.

274 Self-Care Ideas (and Activities) for Coping With Life

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

List of International Suicide Hotlines

How to choose a psychologist

If you don’t have a therapist yet, please find one.  There’s so much in life worth living for.  Remember that the shit you went through wasn’t all in one day…. and getting out of it will likely take just as long, but it’s worth every ounce of energy you can invest in doing so.

Even though I woke up today and pushed myself through getting ready for work before accepting that I wasn’t fit to go to the office today… I know that it’ll pass.  All this upheaval inside me WILL pass, and I WILL be alright.  It took me a lot of years and a lot of times of having to get through the shit my brain generates to understand that the state I’m in today, shaking, feeling like crying, feeling exhausted, unable to focus on anything I might even want to do… it’s going to go away.  I will go back to waking up, getting ready for work, and getting through the day without this.

You will, too.  Get help, trust the process, and don’t give up.  I just wrote a book while dealing with this crap.  I can promise you, you can have a life too.


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