Josh has postedtwo courageous stories over at his blog. Stories I wish he hadn’t had to endure…
Supporting a friend through AA as a teenager, I met many women, young and middle-aged, who found themselves in the grip of alcoholism. The beginnings of this cruel disease were pretty pedestrian. A bottle of spirits shared at a party with mixers, wine shared with friends at dinner, sipping a glass of alcohol whilst studying late at night. It’s not like you need it, right? Only if it’s there. Hard times hit, and the anxiety chews away at your mind. Adrenaline racing and unable to sit still, you reach for alcohol. Perfect, huh? It is a depressant, thus ideal to soothe a raging mind. Ah, that’s better! You remember how you relaxed the previous night, and instinctively reach for another bottle. Able to function during the day, you look forward to your nightly elixir. Trouble is, it is hard to gauge the damage being done internally, and the horrific rebound affect the alcohol shall have on your mind. Depression and anxiety heightened, you need more. You have heard the recommendations of having several alcohol-free evenings each week, and also the advice to never have more than two standard glasses… As the ice melts in your glass, you quickly refill. Automatically, in response to a nagging thought that if one glass felt good, another will feel better. Here is Part 1 of Hannah’s Story. With a heavy heart, I bring you Part 2. It has given me pause for thought and made me question why so many social events revolve around alcohol, why we instinctively reach for it after a hard day. Hannah’s story could be so many of ours, in particular women. We are good at concealing our struggles, to our own detriment. I commend Josh on his bravery and also his generosity in sharing the above.
A friend texted me the other day, and insisted on seeing me. “When are you free today?” he had written. I felt a pain in my chest, knowing I would be flitting from one activity to another, and then another. Then, a smattering of light hit the quagmire, and I replied, “I have an hour whilst L is at a class.” We sat down and conversed, he with green tea, and me with a strong coffee. It was my fifth of the day. He could see I was overwhelmed and questioned all that I forced myself to fit into a day. He was concerned. It was enough for me to be taken aback and review what I was doing. Home schooling my daughter, I was trying to be all things to her. Teacher, mum, social planner, and many more aside. I was trying to please all the people in my world, keep my commitments, and generally be functional. I had around thirty texts a day and around a thousand emails to answer. I was exhausted.
There was no time to eat lunch, no time to change hormone patches, no time to see a doctor or exercise… Hell, there was barely enough time to down more caffeine! I had been feeling as though I were heading for a nervous collapse. Deadlines for articles and deadlines I put on myself. Put in a noisy neighbour who compromised my sleep… I would wake up and have to down two coffees. I would sit on the couch shaking with anxiety, filled with dread at all I had to do. I had to keep everyone happy. Sometimes I would hyperventilate and my stomach would churn. When you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start… My friend was right, and I acknowledged the wisdom of his observation. “I use business as an avoidance tool,” I replied. If I am busy, I can’t feel lonely. If I am busy, my physical pain is ignored. If I am busy, I don’t have time to feel the sorrow, depression and anger.
If I am busy, I can avoid my social anxiety. I don’t quite know where I fit in, and if people actually want to see me. I don’t call friends out of fear of rejection. I am unsure of my place in friend’s lives. I am scared. Thus, I drink coffee of a day, run around like a mad thing, and drink wine at night to come down off my adrenaline rush. The wine brings me down, way down. I go to bed, sleep for a few hours, wake up with a dry mouth and start again. It has to stop. My friend held up a mirror, and I saw the truth. I had no spaces in my life. None. I have to let go of control.
The school holidays began, and I vowed to not over-commit. A new playground opened around the corner, and I set off with my daughter. It felt wrong, and I had a panic attack. I felt guilt that I wasn’t doing things at home. That was a big indicator that I needed to do this, immediately. When depression hits, it hits in a big and scary way, like a tsunami of churned-up emotions. It tells me to stay home and hide. I have to do the opposite. We went to the park, and a friend joined us. We watched the girls play, and we walked in the sun. A few hours later, when we returned home, I felt refreshed. I didn’t drink wine last night. I went to bed early, and had a good sleep. The noisy neighbour was at it early this morning. I had one coffee, made lunch, and we set off for the park again. It was glorious. So many friendly faces, hugs and smiles. A friend even brought her little pony for the kids to pat. I am changing everything at this point. If I continue on this trajectory, I will inevitably collapse. More early nights, and less commitments are required. I have to. It will mean saying “no” to things that are stretching my limits. It will mean more time in the sunshine and for spontaneous gatherings.
Two years ago, I did a free e-course for people with anxiety. I completed a questionnaire which was designed to advise how far I had come.
Thank you again for your ongoing support of this important research – we really appreciate your time and benefit from your support.
We are pleased to say that the questionnaires you completed indicate that your symptoms have reduced since you first completed the questionnaires more than 24 months ago. Specifically, your symptoms of both panic and low mood have reduced by more than 70% and are now in the low to non-clinical ranges. We appreciate that the questionnaires do not always reflect people’s experiences, but these are good improvements to have made and maintained – we hope they are reflected in improvements in your wellbeing.’
I am never going back to how I felt as a young person; to how I felt two years ago. I wont. I do have work to do, and life does get busy, but I am going to cease pushing myself to the brink. It leaves no time for joy and happen-chance. I am going to walk in the sun, and we are going to play most days. I will find time. If emails go unanswered, if my phone gets switched off, so be it. I will snatch back time.
I have to retrain my nervous system and my brain. I have to learn how to breathe again. I have to understand that caffeine is lovely provided its one cup a day. I have to stop using alcohol to make me feel comfortable socially and to drown out the panic which overtakes me at night. They are only habits, and a habit can be changed.
I am incredibly touched that Gentle Kindness nominated me for the Once a Victim Now a Survivor Award.
This award is for those who have gone through mental illness of any kind, abuse, trauma, and especially PTSD. Here are the rules:
Thank the blogger that nominated you
Nominate 5 – 10 bloggers to pass the award to
Post questions for your nominees to answer (you may use the same as these below)
Inform your nominees and post a comment in their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated
Here are the questions for my nominees. Feel free to skip any questions that you want to skip. You can fill in your own questions as you feel appropriate.
1. In what ways do you feel that blogging can help people with psychological trauma or mental illness?
Most definitely! It gives you a platform to not only articulate your experience and feelings, but also to educate.
2. How has blogging helped you with your healing, or your personal journey?
Being able to tell mystory has been invaluable, and the messages of support I have received are incredibly uplifting. We are a real community! I certainly feel validated.
3. What books, movies, or YouTube channels would you recommend to someone with a similar background to you?
I have written a book calledLived to Tell. It details what occurred,and most importantly, how I came back from hell. It has a happy ending! People placed bets that I wouldn’t live to fifteen, and now I am a grown woman. That still makes me shake my head in wonder! My worst day now pales when compared to my worst days then.
Many people in my circle would probably be surprised to know that I have PTSD. They would be surprised at its ferocity and how hard I have had to work to have a semblance of normality. It hasn’t been easy! There was years of involuntary shaking when the telephone rang or someone knocked at the door. I would have to talk myself into venturing to the letterbox. I rarely went out alone. I can suffer flashbacks pretty easily, especially in social settings. You are out of your comfort zone and when a “red zone” topic comes up in conversation, I can literally feel my body tense and my brain react. I will sometimes feel welded to the seat, unable to move and get away. Sometimes I look placid and I smile. I have covered up my terror with gulps of wine, but when I get home, the horror hits. It can take weeks to get my equilibrium back. When a group of people start talking about the horror in the news and such, I usually think “there goes two weeks of sleep.”
I began to think that there had to be a better way than to nurse a flute of champagne (well, actually several), to take away my discomfort. There had to be a better way than to stay glued to my seat, listening to horrifying opinions on deeply upsetting topics.
Here is how I cope. 1. Remembering that I am here, not there. I have a little piece of paper that I pull out of my purse. You are here, not there, it reads. I find it deeply assuring when I am feeling myself pulled back into the trauma of the past.
2. I will immediately excuse myself. Whether that be from a conversation or a shop where music is being played that reminds me of the past. I will find a quiet area (usually the bathroom), and concentrate on my breathing.
3. I will watch my diet. Grabbing crackers and dips at a party will not do. A balanced diet is necessary. When I was at my worst, it was found I wasn’t absorbing B12 and needed shots. The difference was quite incredible. Bananas and other foods high in the amino acid Tryptophan are also helpful.
4. I am allowed to state that I am uncomfortable. If the people are unaware, I am allowed to state what my past looked like.
5. I need to have adequate rest. The PTSD (which involves nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks), escalates if I am rushing from one thing to another.
6. On certain dates, I need space. I wont commit to anything on the anniversary of my fall, for instance. It is a time of reflection, grief and also celebration that I survived. It is a deeply personal time.
7. I take a bottle of Rescue Remedy and lavender essential oil with me in my bag. The act of sniffing them -or putting the Rescue Remedy on my tongue- snaps me back to the present.
8. I carry a photo of my daughter with me and take it out and look at her smiling face. The joy contained in the picture helps me to centre. It could be a picture of a pet. Whatever helps you.
9. I wont over-imbibe. The crash that comes afterward emotionally is devastating.
10. I can leave. Wow! I now give myself permission to leave! If the vibe is going South and the conversation is awful, I can leave.
It is a hard thing to live with. Sometimes the past can seem clearer than now. Every detail is etched into my memory, and doesn’t fade with time. Sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste can take me back. No wonder it happens a fair bit! The most important thing is that I show myself kindness. I need regular time to myself to process what I am feeling, and what I have heard. In a week, people can talk about murder, sexual abuse, child abduction, and crime movies/novels many times over. It sticks to my skin, like they have gone mad with a labeller. I go out to nature and breathe. I need silence to oppose the noise in my mind.
I had an experience the other day, whilst visiting a school on the other side of our city. I saw a lady sitting by herself. Her eyes showed abject terror, her body language stiff and self-protective. She was waiting to pick up her kids. I sat with her, and we started talking. She talked about a man from her childhood, a member of her family. “He was too friendly,” she whispered. Her eyes met mine. She knew I knew and I knew that she knew that I knew. I told her how sorry I was. So very sorry. I hope she is treated kindly in her adult life. You don’t “get over” some experiences, but you can live beautifully despite them.