Using my public platform as therapy (again)

Using my public platform as therapy (again)

I had my second jab (Pfizer) on Friday. It was fine. My arm was killing me for a day and I felt slightly more fatigued than usual, but that was all. Now I have no more excuses to stay home. After 1 year and 2 months of being almost exclusively confined to my home, I now have to re-join society.

I’ve spoken to the HR rep at work and we have agreed to a phased return (starting with 3 days a week until I feel able to do more) beginning on May 10th 2021. I am terrified.

I want to specify, I’m not afraid of the virus. I mean, I am, but only mildly. I have faith in science, in my workplace, and my colleagues to keep me safe. I think my chances of catching the virus are slim to none. What I am experiencing is a generalised anxiety that I haven’t felt for many years. It’s a fear of being away from my safe space and of facing the unknown. This is a fear that I have faced before, and has always been a part of me but, with practice, I was able to ignore it and live life anyway. But I’m very out of practice, and the idea of my home being my ‘safe space’ was intensified by the fact that people are literally dying by the million outside. So the general anxiety has become more akin to a phobia.

Problem solving time. I often talk about having two brains. I have an emotional, irrational one, that feels all the things with or without reason, and I have ‘Logic Brain’, who does all of the thinking and rationalising. When I was young, Emotional Brain was in charge of everything, and would shut up Logic Brain with “If that’s true, then why does it feel like this?”. As I grew up, I thought that the goal was rid yourself of the irrational feels by logic-ing them away (turn the light on to prove to yourself that the shadows aren’t real and can’t hurt you). Now, as a psychologically mature adult, I realise that neither brain is more right than the other and that communication between the two is key.

Therefore, the first questions are always, what are you feeling and why? The first one is pretty easy, fear and anxiety. The ‘why’ is more difficult. Logic Brain tells me that there is nothing to fear, nothing that I will encounter will harm me, and I am not in danger. But that doesn’t help, never does, never has. When I’m struggling to pinpoint the cause of my fear, I run through the scenario in my head and pay attention to which parts trigger the fear. When I think about the work, I’m actually really excited and looking forward to it. It’s what I trained to do and I love it, and even though it’ll be unfamiliar work to me, I love learning, so that’ll be fun. When I think about seeing the people, some I will have worked with before, some I will have worked with remotely but not met in person, and some will be completely new. I’m not a fan of socialising and meeting new people, but I know the atmosphere of the company is a friendly, respectful one and it will be nice to be able to mix with people who share my interests again. It turns out, the things that are scaring me are; getting to and from work, how well my health will hold up (i.e, how painful will it be?), and having nowhere to retreat to if things get too much. So let’s unpack these, shall we?

Number 1. Getting to and from work. I had planned to be driving by now but, long story short, I’m not. I used to get the bus(es) into work, but they are now at the bottom of my list, partly because lots of people in a tin box is a breeding ground for all kinds of things that can kill you, and partly because I had to get up at 4am to get to work on time, and that will negatively effect fear number 2. Currently my plan is to carpool with a fellow employee coming from the city. If they are unwell or unable to make it for some reason, then a £40 Uber is my backup plan (app downloaded and addresses saved and at the ready). It’s not ideal, but it’s a stop-gap until I’m able to drive myself, which is the official plan.

Number 2. My health is not as bad as it could be, but by no definition is it good. It won’t hinder me in doing my job, I have struggled through Uni when my health was much worse, but I am afraid of pain. I can take painkillers before, during and after work, but they only take the edge off, they don’t rid me of the pain completely. My best defence here (besides the painkillers), is to adjust my diet and adhere to it strictly, rest as much as possible when I’m not at work and, don’t be a hero, ask for a chair if there isn’t one. Experience has taught me that I will get used to the extra activity, as long as I care for myself properly.

Number 3. This is another thing that having a car would fix. Sometimes, being around people and noise and smells and places gets too much for me and I need to retreat to a confined space that is silent, where no-one can see me. Usually, this would be a bathroom stall, but I’m not sure about the safety rules that have been put in place regarding toilets in the building. This is something I will need to look into, but stairwell is also an option. Solutions to this problem require extra research, but it’s not information that is difficult to get hold of, and I can definitely prepare for this beforehand.

So there we have it. Emotional Brain has calmed down a bit because instead of telling it that there’s nothing to be scared of, Logic Brain had put plans in place to ease the fears. The anxiety is still there, but it’s less, and over time, with repeat exposure and further developments, it’ll become pea sized and manageable again.

Thanks for helping me with my therapy today. I hope you’re all well. :smiley face emoji:

Stupid Trauma Brain

Stupid Trauma Brain

Trigger warning: I will be talking about flashbacks and other trauma responses and referring to (but not detailing) sexual assault.

Last weekend, I had a flashback. The trigger was being out of breath and getting light-headed. Needless to say, I have experienced these feeling many times before and they have never triggered a flashback, so I was taken by surprise (to say the least) when it happened.

The last time I had a flashback was just before Christmas. I saw a duvet cover in a shop and I felt my brain going to ‘the dark place’. I tried to ignore it, then realised I was being triggered quite badly and was likely to have a flashback, so I found the fiancé (who was elsewhere in the same shop), left the shop and clung to him while I rode it out. And this is generally how this kind of thing goes. I have been working on my PTSD for 5/6 years now, I have dealt with my known triggers and I’m self-aware enough that if something does start coming up I’m able to make myself feel safe, ride it out, then self soothe after it has passed. The flashback before Christmas lasted only a few minutes, then I was able to pull myself together and we finished our Christmas shopping.

Last weekend was different. I didn’t know I was being triggered, I thought I just couldn’t catch my breath (something that frequently happens to me with my M.E). Then I started crying and wasn’t sure why, then I began having a tactile (aka somatic) flashback. In the early days of my PTSD I would have full, visual, auditory and tactile flashbacks, completely reliving the trauma. Now I tend to only get one kind, depending on the trigger. The duvet cover forced a visual flashback, shouting can cause an auditory flashback, struggling to breathe and feeling lightheaded apparently triggers a tactile flashback with a few scattered images and my own inner-monologue repeating some unsettling phrases that I have associated with the event. I struggled to calm myself down and get a grip on reality again. I am used to focusing on my breath to bring myself out of panic attacks and it’s become an automatic muscle-memory kind of response when I feel emotionally or physically distressed. But every time I started to slow my breathing and start coming round, I was triggered again. Maybe because my breath was the original trigger, I got locked in a cycle, I don’t know for sure, just speculating. I don’t know how long it went on, but it felt like the longest one I have had in many years. Eventually distraction became the way out, forcing my mind to focus on something in the real world so I would keep getting sucked into the past. Afterward I felt embarrassed and guilty, because the fiancé was with me through it all, and angry that I’m still traumatised after all the work I’ve done on myself.

Please indulge me while I unpack these emotions.
Embarrassment: I take pride in presenting myself to the world as a strong, stable, well put together human being. No doubt I have my issues and mental health problems, but I am emotionally mature enough to acknowledge them and talk about them openly and honestly in a safe environment on my own terms. However, when something like this happens, I completely unravel and fall apart becoming an hysterical mess. Emotionally, it’s as if I’ve just soiled myself. And yes, maybe I’m unwell and it’s not my fault, it was out of my control etc etc etc, but it’s still embarrassing for another person to see you s*** yourself.
Guilt: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody in severe emotional distress, but it’s really unpleasant. Especially when it’s somebody you care about, especially when there’s nothing you can do, and especially when your personality requires you to fix problems. Knowing that I put my fiancé through that makes me feel guilty. And again, I am aware of the logical arguments here; he loves me so he doesn’t mind going through that with me, he knows me and my history so isn’t shocked by my trauma response, he has been present for flashbacks before so is aware of what is going on etc etc etc, but I still wish he didn’t have to deal with it all.
Anger: This is the one I think most people will be able to relate to. As I already mentioned, I have working on my PTSD for years. For the most part, I consider myself over it. I mean, nothing will ever be the same again, but my trauma responses are manageable, when I have intrusive thoughts I’m able to push them aside, when I talk about the trauma I’m able to do so in a calm, logical way. I’m not angry that it happened because it changed me into a better a human being, and I’m not angry at him for doing it to me, because I know that he is a broken person too. I am angry at my stupid trauma brain and it’s stupid misfiring synapses. I’m angry because the trauma has left scars on me that I can do nothing about. After all the hard work I’ve put in to allow myself to live a good life, these scars will stay with me forever and, like a creepy Jack-in-the-box, will jump out and surprise me with my trauma and random times in my life. I am angry that I will never recover the control that he took from me.

Side note: I have heard that you can use binaural beats to increase neuroplasticity in the brain that can help breach the gap that trauma has caused. I don’t know if there’s any science to back that up, but it sounds legit to me, so I might try it.

Segway into a seemingly unrelated, but actually really relevant situation that happened a coupe of days later. Those of you who are friends with my on Facebook, may have seen this:

Now, when this first happened, I was very focused on the anxiety and the auditory processing issues that I have, but reflecting on it the next day I realised the link between this emotional response and my trauma. You see, I misunderstood a situation and thought that I was happy with what was occurring, then I realised my mistake and knew that I didn’t actually want it. Even so, I was about to go through with it anyway because it was my fault for misunderstanding in the first place. However, in this situation, I was able to say “no” (amongst many apologies) to the thing that I did not want. She did continue to try and convince me to change my mind and this was when the panic started setting in and I just kept saying “no” and “sorry” over and over before I eventually stopped talking all together. Then for hours afterwards I was overwhelmed by guilt and self-blame (“I’m so stupid, what’s wrong with me, I should have known better, I brought this on myself” etc). I guess this is proof that I’m not as “over it” as I thought, or maybe I have other issues that need to be addressed that may have allowed the trauma to occur in the first place, or maybe the recent flashback made me more vulnerable than usual and I reverted to behaviours that I wouldn’t normally display? Humans are complex beings.

So in conclusion, my stupid trauma brain is traumatised and causes stupid trauma responses that I’m not able to control. Just thought I’d share that with you.

No Offense but…

No Offense but…

Everybody is offended nowadays. And that’s fine, you have a right to feel your feelings. You even have to right to express your feelings to others. But the way that you do that is important.

When I was younger I was impetuous and opinionated. I was judgmental and loved to point out peoples flaws and tell them how to fix themselves. I knew that people hated me for this and I didn’t care because I was “telling it like it is” and “they just can’t handle the truth.”

As I grew up (physically and emotionally), I realised that I did care whether people liked me or not, and I had enough flaws of my own that I should not start throwing rocks. I still had a lot of the same opinions but I started to keep them to myself.

As the world became a more horrendous place, and I became more self-aware, it became increasingly difficult to keep my thoughts inside. So I began to pick and choose my battles. I would speak out against things that directly effected me, and I ignored things that would cause me more hassle than they were worth. A selfish way to live, maybe, but energy efficient. I also changed the way that I expressed myself so I sounded less combative and it was less likely to become an argument. It didn’t always work, but I tried.

And then Covid happened. Fear and anxiety are at an all time high. People are less distracted and worn out by their monotonous jobs. Politics is the topic on everybody’s lips, and things are getting heated. More and more people are publicly and aggressively stating their beliefs and, in doing so, inviting others to publicly and aggressively disagree with them.

I am not exempt from this. With everything that has been going on, ‘bandwagons’ are being created so that people can push their particular agendas, and it is demanded that everybody either jump on the bandwagon or be crushed beneath the wheels. I do my best, where I can, to give a different opinion, another option, an alternative perspective, and more often than not, I am immediately vilified and the rowdy rabble begin sharpening their pitchforks hungrily.

And so we arrive at the crux of my argument. As much as you have the right to be offended, and express your hurt feelings, I have the right to express my opinions. Of course, there will be some occasions where a person is being deliberately offensive, or combative, or discriminatory, and that should definitely be addressed, but even under those circumstances, there is an effective way to do it. Have you ever been told not to lose your temper at a bully, because then they know they’ve won? If you calmly, and logically discuss their opinions, you’ll very quickly be able to tell if they are just trying to irritate you or not. This approach also prevents you from becoming a bully yourself by attacking someone who you assumed was being deliberately offensive, when really they are just confused, or looking to understand, or in some cases, just have a different opinion to you.

And you know, it’s okay for people to have different opinions. There is no unilateral ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. People are shaped by their life experiences, by society, by propaganda, by religion, by culture etc. etc. They will form different opinions based on these things and that is okay. The way we will evolve as a species is by being open to listen to different opinions and try to understand them. Even if you eventually decide that you still disagree, that is okay too.

The best way to avoid being combative or aggressive when expressing opinions, is put things in terms of your own perspective. I.e, In stead of saying “X is good, Y is bad, and anybody who thinks Y is good, is a bad person”, say “I think X is good, I believe Y is bad and I don’t understand those who think otherwise”. Obviously you can use your own vernacular, but using phrases like “I think”, “I believe”, “In my opinion”, “If you ask me”, etc., shows that you understand that not everyone will have the same opinion as you and you accept that. It shows emotional maturity and might even open up an interesting conversation with points of view that you hadn’t considered before.

Some people may still be offended, and this is also okay. You might find that you are still offended by others opinions, especially if they have directly addressed you in their disagreement. If you are a person who is quick to anger, then it is good practice to walk away from your computer or phone for a few minutes to calm down before responding. We have all said things in the heat of the moment that we didn’t mean, and the internet is a ruthless place. Don’t put yourself in that position, it will only make things worse.

Once you have calmed down, reread the comment to make sure you haven’t misread, misunderstood, or misinterpreted. Often people will read between the lines and make assumptions and draw conclusions that were not intended by the original poster. Read the words they are actually saying and take them at face value then, if you still don’t understand, ask for clarification. If you think they have misunderstood what you said, then go ahead and clarify for them. All of this should be done in a calm and clear way, and use the same personal perspective as before. In stead of “You’re wrong”, “You’ve misunderstood”, “You’re talking nonsense” etc., say things like “That doesn’t seem right to me”, “Let me explain differently”, “I don’t understand”. The most important part of all of this is not to force them to change their mind or bully them into submission, but to try and understand their opinion.

Also, there is a time and a place for profanity. When somebody starts overusing swear words (especially when they are specifically directed towards another person), it denotes a lack of emotional intelligence and inability to form rational thought. It destroys any credibility they have and basically nullifies their opinion since they don’t seem to know themselves why they believe it. It usually happens because someone is unable to control their emotions and they feel vulnerable because of that. The only way they can regain control of the situation, is to make you more angry and upset than them. Don’t be one of these people, and don’t waste your energy arguing with them, they have lost their reasoning skills. If they are actually smart people, they will return when they’ve calmed down and talk to you properly.

Finally, I leave you with the most important lesson:

You cannot control other people, only yourself and your own reactions. If you are offended by something, it is not the fault or the responsibility of the other person, it is for you to understand why.

If we continue the ‘bandwagon’ culture of “join us or be destroyed”, then we will end up in a tyrannical censorship-society where the people who really are being oppressed or discriminated against will be unable to speak out.

So, one more time for the people who are offended by this blog post; all opinions are valid.