Tag Archives: Anxiety

I Hate Complex-PTSD

(Trigger Warning – Discussion about Trauma)

I hate Complex-PTSD. There is no way around it, I hate it.  I got triggered today.  All it took was for me to be sent spiraling was for me to notice that a relative of mine had changed their profile picture on Facebook.  It was a completely innocent thing for them to do.  There was nothing wrong with the picture that my relative chose, but for me, it was enough to trigger a cascading effect of interacting layers of trauma that I have accumulated over the years.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape.”

C-PSTD can occur in such cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull, splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.

How did I get to this point? I grew up in an emotionally neglectful and abusive household.  I married what I knew and the covert emotional manipulation and emotional abuse only got worse.  I have also been taking care of mentally ill family members for over 16 years now.  Then there is the medical trauma I endured 15 years ago that resulted in my initial diagnosis of PTSD which eventually grew to C-PTSD when more and more layers of trauma were exposed.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and C-PTSD are similar, but they do differ in causes and symptoms. C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little to no chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.

***Remember, C-PTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor is it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.

From The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders:

CPTSD Symptoms

People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
  • Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
  • Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
  • Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
  • Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
  • Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
  • Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation

Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Migraines

From Out of the Storm:

Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD

According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:

  • Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks.  While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional.  That is,  a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused.  These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) . 
  • Sense of threat – constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
  • Avoidance – of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)

Symptoms of CPTSD Only

Cloitre et al (2014) suggest that CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it has three additional symptoms:

  • Emotion regulation – Emotional sensitivity; reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner  
  • Negative self-concept – Feeling of worthlessness and defectiveness. Walker suggests that those with CPTSD suffer from toxic shame and have a virulent Inner and Outer Critic.
  • Interpersonal problems – Difficulty feeling close to another person; feeling disconnected, distant or cut off from other people (depersonalization, social anxiety). 

Everyone is unique and the above list of symptoms is not complete and not everyone with C-PTSD will exhibit all the symptoms listed. I, for one, do not have the physical symptoms of “Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity”. There was a time I wanted revenge, but I couldn’t stand that feeling and fought hard against it. Revenge never solves anything and can ultimately destroy the person seeking revenge. I have wanted to die, but I have never had suicidal thoughts.  I also have never been violent, destroyed property, nor committed theft. I do not have cardiovascular problems, but I do experience chest pain during anxiety and panic attacks. I have had to establish healthy boundaries and am no longer in contact with certain family members beyond an occasional email.  I also never lost my ability to form close personal relationships with others.

What makes experiencing all this worse for me is that things that trigger me are typically seen as happy moments by most people, so there is little to no understanding as to why I cut myself off from exposure to reminders and why an unexpected exposure to a photograph of my happy sister, her happy husband, and her new baby affected me so badly.  I didn’t experience anger seeing that photo.  I was terrified!  Pregnancy and children birth reminders are horrible, panic inducing triggers for me. The reason for this is my medical trauma resulted from me being pregnant and giving birth.  I am not going to go into detail, but more information can be found here and here.

I got triggered this morning by a reminder of that horrific time in my life that was my medical trauma, the lack of emotional support I experienced from my family and continue to experience, and all the loss I experienced and continue to experience.  That one trigger not only triggered me regarding my medical trauma, but every  emotional trauma after it. There is a lot.  As I stated before, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and came from an emotionally manipulative and neglectful home life that followed me into adulthood.    

It is 11:31PM now. I am still struggling. I have been crying off and on all day, but most of my crying was this morning.  How have I coped?  I used music and running.  I let myself ride the melody and lyrics of specifically chosen songs and played them over and over again.  I let the music flow through me and let the emotion flow with it.  I had to.  No more pretending.  I am safe now.  I don’t have to hide my anguish anymore. I have to let my pain out, but I have to do it in a health way.  I have been a runner for 24 years.  Running helps me regulate my anxiety and helps me control my meltdowns.  Running is not for everyone, but it is a way for me to help ground myself when the whole world feels like it is collapsing all around me like it did today.

My theme song today was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.  I felt this song fit with how I was feeling and how I wanted to express myself, because I had no words, just tears and pain.  (Lyrics) 

After my run tonight I found myself still feeling lost. The song I needed to listen to was “Send me an Angel” by Real Life.  (Lyrics)

I have been waking up lately with this song playing in my head. I wouldn’t mind at all having an angel sent to me right now with some guidance and emotional support. Days like this are so hard, but they do eventually get better.  I just have to keep moving forward.  A better day will come.  

 

 

I Can’t Anymore . . .

NOTE: I feel that this writing is lacking, but I am struggling right now and needed to write and release it out in cyber space in order to reduce the build up of emotions inside of me.  I feel there needs to be a trigger warning, but I am not sure what to warn about. There is mention of depression and the thought of wanting to die, but please understand that I am not in any way suicidal. My hope is that this writing may help someone else that is also going through a difficult situation. Now, deep breath . . .

I can’t. I just can’t anymore. I feel so done with everything.  I know I am grieving again, but a person can only take so much emotional turmoil in their life.  I don’t want to have to start over again.  I have done this so many times before.  I don’t feel I have the energy anymore, but I will carry on.  I always do.  I will continue on, but tonight as I type this, I don’t want to.  I am so tired of it all, the pain, the heartache, the feeling of loss.

Oh, gosh, the pain, always with the pain. I am not just talking about physical pain.  I have a lot of that. My body has been degenerating, well, for as long as I can remember.  Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome will do that to you.  What is hurting me more right now, what is gouging at me, is the emotional pain. Physical pain takes a huge emotional toll on a person, but the lack of emotional support from loved ones makes it almost unbearable.  It is so bad that you want to die.

Do I want to die tonight? No, but I want to give up.  Everything I have been fighting to hold on to for almost 20 years is disintegrating right before my eyes.  It might be an archaic idea, but I am the type that bonds for life.  Unfortunately, I bonded with a man who doesn’t hold these same views.

I have written a lot about this man’s behavior over the past several years. It was a way for me to process through the grief and here I am again, grieving over another lost dream.  A dream of a new future, a new start with this same man who I naively thought shared the same dream as I did. 

I was wrong. His lifestyle choice seems to be more important to him than his own family and our relationship.  It is so frustrating.  I know this man loves me and he loves his children, but he is clueless when it comes to doing what is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship. 

There is a pull to be angry, but why? I have been there before many times.  It is an emotion a person needs to go through when processing things, but one needs to work past the anger.  Sadness and loss is what I feel tonight.  Sadness and loss is what I am familiar with when dealing with this particular man.  I guess tonight this sadness and loss is filled with more answered questions, then unanswered.  At least I have that.  For too many years I did not even have that, which only led to high levels of anxiety. 

Tonight, what I feel is depression and the knowledge that I have done all that I can. It is all on him now.  I fear that this is where it will finally stop, my ongoing effort I mean.  For nearly two decades I have tried and tried, but I can’t anymore.  There comes a time when there is enough evidence to show that you have hit a dead end, because you have done all that you can and still have gotten nowhere.   

I have been through so much in my life, so much crap. I have Complex-PTSD because of it, layers of trauma over many years. I am the autistic one, the person whom others have claimed has no empathy, no feelings, and has been called a robot and stuck up, but have also been told I am too emotional and too sensitive. Well, which is it?  You can’t be too emotional and too sensitive, but also lack empathy and feelings.  It doesn’t work that way.

I can tell you with all honesty that I have extremely strong empathy, so much so that it hurts. I have a very hard time separating what I feel from those I am around, particularly those who I care about. I might just not express it in ways that the general population may expect.  I feel it all, though.  I can’t seem to filter it out, just like I can’t filter out sensory input.  It is all bombarding me at once. 

I am a textbook autistic person. I say what I mean and mean what I say.  There is no hidden message and there is nothing written between the lines. I am a blunt and honest person who adheres to the virtues of integrity and honor.  I am also loyal and trusting, much to my own peril.  As a friend of mine once said, people like she and I seem to have a target on our foreheads, because of how we are. 

Where I come from, non-autistic people seem to be the ones who “lack empathy”, at least they seem to be this way towards others who don’t think like them. This same man that I have been referring to has come to some realizations as of late. 

My basic needs are not the same as his. It has taken him a very long time to come to realize this.  How I express my happiness is also not the same as his way as well as what makes me happy is not the same as what makes him happy.

More on this here —-> I am Real, I am Human, and I Feel!

I do not understand why he would have so much trouble understanding this, but he is still struggling with this whole concept.  This non-autistic man seems to be only able to see the world through his eyes, yet I am the one who is said to be lacking in “theory of mind”.  No, I am not lacking in “theory of mind”. I am just different.

——————–

This is my blog that I wrote in July 2013 entitled “Theory of Mind – The Debate Continues” .

Here is Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s blog entitled “A Critique of the Theory of Mind” .

And Ariane Zurcher’s blog entitled “An Empathic Debunking of the Theory Of Mind” .

——————–

How do I deal with all of this? I practice mindfulness.  From What Is Mindfulness? :

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

I suppose my writing is one way for me to practice mindfulness. Before I started typing tonight I felt like my life was imploding.  The life that I wanted is basically over and I just couldn’t take it anymore.  After putting myself in the moment and allowing the emotions I was feeling to come out in written form, I am starting to feel the pressure that was building up inside me subside.

Deep breaths .  .  . I will not give up. I will get through this. 

Hear My Battle Cry  (A poem I wrote.)

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Personal Responsibility, Self-Advocacy, Education, and Support

On November 26th I wrote about Finding Hope. That writing was part of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) that my Peer Support Specialist is helping me put together.  The “hope” portion was only the first part. There are four other concepts to this writing that I needed to figure out what their meaning was to me.  These remaining concepts were easier for me to write about than writing about “hope”, but my writing didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  Instead of separating these last four concepts out, I ended up combining them all in a long narrative. 

It has taken me years to write my story. A bit here and a bit there. So much struggle.  So much pain. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, it was recommended to me to get my story out to help with my healing process, but I just couldn’t.  This is why it has been so difficult for me to conglomerate every thing that has happened to me.  I made an attempt in June of 2015 to combine everything up to that point when I wrote The Volcano is Awake. I cried writing it.  It reads choppy, but it seems every time I try to write my story that happens.  I am still trying to heal. Healing takes time and how that healing plays out is different for everyone.  My ability to write to the point at which I have is quite an achievement for me, because for so long I couldn’t even do that much. 

In this second part of putting my WRAP together, I was faced with determining what personal responsibility, self-advocacy, education, and support meant to me. As I stated before, I was not expecting my writing of these concepts to turn out like it did. I am not sure what that means, per say, but I think it demonstrates where my processing of things are, where my focus is, and where I am in my struggle to heal.

So, here it goes. Some of this writing is repetitive information from past blogs, some of it is not. This is me putting my story out explaining my ongoing journey to wellness.

I am stretched quite thin and have been for some time. My responsibility to others, particularly my family and students has led me to neglect my own self-care.  The one thing that I promised myself when I was 18 years old was that I would run as often as I could and I have kept that promise through two difficult pregnancies and countless injuries.  I have always lived an active healthy life style, even when I was a child I was active.  I have strived to keep my body strong and healthy and it has served me well. 

I was born with a congenital condition that has been slowly destroying all my connective tissues. My body cannot produce enough collagen to bind my cells together properly.  The only way to be diagnosed with this condition currently is by keeping track of years of injury, and just not any injury.  I am talking about joint injury, bleeding and bruising problems, and organ prolapse.  I have a long list of injuries and surgeries that a person my age with long history of living a healthy lifestyle wouldn’t expect to have.

During my high school years, just prior to my first surgery, I was told by my doctor that if I let myself get out of shape I would lose my ability to walk. My joints were already that lose and dislocating. At 27 years old, after the birth of my second child, I was told that the only thing holding my body together anymore were my bones and muscles.  At 38 years old, I was told that only my muscles were holding my body together anymore.  I am currently 41 years old and my bones are now essentially floating in my body. It doesn’t take much for them to move out of place and cause considerable pain.  It also doesn’t take much to injure myself.  Just doing everyday things can cause me to end up with an injury that lays me up for days or weeks. I have to be very conscious of how I move my body.  I have to keep my upper body always aligned with my lower body and that is not an easy thing to do.    

I have been in physical therapy eight times since I was 14 years old. I have been told to stop running for years, but I refuse. My physical therapist doesn’t even try to tell me to stop running anymore.  He says now that, yes, running is hurting me, but it is also keeping my body strong, which is needed to hold it together.  

Running is also good for my mental well-being. There are days when I go running in the woods and scream at the trees.  I cry. I shout. I let everything out.  By the end of my run I feel tired, but purged of all that stress in my head that was tearing me apart.

I also write. Writing has become my “voice”.  Through the encouragement of another teacher who saw an ability that I didn’t realize I had, who was also a mother of an autistic son and a blogger herself, I found my “voice” for the first time in my life. I was 36 years old at the time I received my Autism diagnosis, which was after both of my children were diagnosed.   I was never taught how to be an advocate or to even how to advocate for myself, but as a parent and a teacher, I figured it out on my own.  Finding my “voice” only empowered me further. 

I now write two blogs, I have a Twitter account, and I run three public Facebook pages plus my private Facebook page. I am also a Founding Member of ANUE (Advocates for Neurodiversity and Unique Empowerment).  ANUE has become primarily an online support and resource group, but there is an option to have face-to-face meetings.  I am in contact with people all over the world through the internet and have meant some really amazing people.  

Would it be better for me to have more contact with people face-to-face?

Yes, I do believe it would, but my situation does not allow for that, so over the last four years I have created a large social network online. It has been a life saver for me, but in times of crisis, more face-to-face support would be better.

Becoming an advocate was not something I decided one day to become. I wanted to be a teacher since I was seven years old. I struggled with the decision of becoming an Art Teacher or a Science Teacher for years, but in eleventh grade I took my first Geology class, and that was my deciding factor.  I was going to become an Earth Science Educator and I did. My dream was to teach science in a public school setting and I did accomplish that.  I have been a certified teacher for 18 years, but I have not held a certified position in four years.  Due to my declining health and responsibilities to my family, my children in particular, I am no longer able to work in a classroom on a daily basis.  I still teach, however, just in a different way than I had originally planned.  This is where becoming more of an advocate comes in.

I went back to graduate school four years ago with the goal of earning a Master’s degree in Science Education. My passion lies in Science and I wanted to continue working in the field of Science Education.  Unfortunately, as always, life happens when you are making other plans.  My marriage collapsed unexpectedly two months into my program.  It was devastating, but I had to carry on for the sake of my children and for myself. 

I managed to make it into my second year of grad school and it was at this point when I began to realize there was a problem. Due to my executive function problems, I needed accommodations to get through the certain classes. My classes were mostly online and the university was in Montana with the requirement that two lab courses had to be completed on campus.   I live in Washington State. The University felt they could not provide the accommodations that I needed to be successful.  I had to make a choice, struggle through knowing that I would eventually fail or transfer into a different University all together.  I decided to transfer to Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. 

My experience with Montana State University and my experience as a teacher, a parent of two children with a variety of disabilities, and with ANUE showed me that my focus needed to be placed where my untapped strengths were pointing me toward, I am a teacher and an advocate and I needed to focus on Autism Education. Lesley University follows Universal Designed for Learning Standards.  Basically, an accommodation that is good for one person is good for all.  The accommodations I needed were already in place and I didn’t even have to ask for them. My experience at Lesley University was amazing and I finished in two years with a Master’s in Education with an Autism Certification.

My hope with getting a Master’s degree was that it would open more doors for employment with the ultimate goal of becoming self-employed. I even have started my business online as an education consultant and tutor.  I have not been able to really focus on it, however, due to the circumstances that my family is currently living in and my own mental health.  Once things start to calm down and become more stable, I fully intend on developing my business more.

Self-employment, a livable house, a place that I can call home, these are all important goals, but I think the biggest goal I have is to be finally able to heal. I have Complex-PTSD and I am in autistic burnout.  I keep pushing and pushing myself each day just to get through.  I am tired of trying to survive. 

I WANT TO LIVE!!

It is going to be a rough ride, though, to actually reach that point of stability where I can actually reach my goals. My support team is going to be such a pivotal importance in the coming years.  

Who are these people who will be that much needed support?

I am so used to struggling on my own. It was how I was raised.  I grew up with very little to no support, particularly in the emotional support department. My emotional needs were essentially ignored. This was very difficult for an undiagnosed autistic child who struggled with debilitating anxiety mixed with depressed states who didn’t have the words to express how she felt nor did she understand those feelings.   I was often told by my parents that their job was to provide clothing, food, and shelter. That was basically it.  I had to learn to make it on my own.  My marriage was like that as well, very little to no support, even during my darkest times in my life.  That situation is improving, however, but very slowly.  

It took me a long time to get myself to a place where I would actually ask for help. I was just so used to being told “no”, that my “voice” didn’t matter, that my needs didn’t matter.  I am more disabled that I even am able to acknowledge to myself, and it is disheartening, but I know I have worth and that I matter. It has been quite a journey getting to the point where I can say that.

I HAVE WORTH!!

I MATTER!!

So, who are these wonderful people who I could turn to for help?

I created a Mind Map to sort that all out. Doctors and counselors (for both my children and I), local friends, online friends, ANUE, immediate family members, fellow teachers and advocates, my pets, there are actually a lot of people and critters listed, expect for my extended family members. My hope is with time the bubble for Other Family Members will grow, but at this time it is not possible.  My parents basically disowned me for reasons I won’t go into here and I am unable to really speak to my sister for reasons that are too painful to discuss right now.  When it comes to learning about the effects of trauma and learning how to adjust my life due to my physical and neurological disabilities, I am a knowledge junkie.  I devour knowledge.  I am forever learning and I have a skill when it comes to researching.  I can find information relatively quickly and present that information in a manner that is easy for others to understand.  I am always looking for answers and new pathways to follow whenever I hit a roadblock in my journey through life.

I am still looking for the pathway that will allow me to get to a point where I can actually live and not just survive. I hope that day will come sooner rather than later.  I am tired, so very tired.

Hear My Battle Cry

Here I am sitting at my lap top again trying to find words and at the same time I am listening to “Battle Cry” by Imagine Dragons.  I am in a battle now, a battle to just hold on, to make it through, and to survive.  Life shouldn’t be this hard.  How did my life get so hard? I will not give up, though.  I will keep fighting. This is my battle cry!

Hear My Battle Cry

I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

I may be hungry.

I may be cold.

I may be in pain.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

I may feel hopeless.

I may feel lost.

I may feel alone and isolated.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

My body may be taxed.

My mind may be flooded.

My spirits may be shattered.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

do-not-give-up

Finding Hope

NOTE:  This blog was originally written as a journal entry for my Peer Support Specialist as part of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  It reads somewhat choppy, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.  My children have given me permission to share their medical information as long as I don’t use their names.

(Trigger Warning:  Reference to suicide, emotional abuse, and trauma.)

“Hope is the life force that keeps us going and gives us something to live for. Hope is a crucial part of dealing with life’s problems and maintaining resilience in the face of obstacles. Even a glimmer of hope that our situation will turn around can keep us going.” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

The word “hope” is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I sit here staring at my computer monitor trying to think of things that bring me hope. Where is that feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen?  I seem to be lacking it.  I am in full-on survival mode and have been for some time. The feeling of hope seems to not be in the equation for me.  

I sit here reminding myself it has been bleak before, I mean really bleak. Bleak to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore.  I was never suicidal, I just wanted the physical and emotional pain to end and I only saw death as a way to finally escape it all.

What kept me going?

My responsibility to my two young children is what kept me going. I refused to leave them without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and they had a father who wasn’t always around and grandparents who only wanted to involve themselves on their terms, which was limited. 

This all happened years before I was diagnosed with Autism, years before we knew both my children were also autistic, and years before realizing my daughter also had Bipolar. Medical trauma, grief, chronic pain, post-partum depression, family neglect, emotional abuse, isolation, lack of a proper diagnosis, lack of support from anywhere lead me into the worst autistic burnout I have ever experienced and without a proper diagnosis I had no idea what was happening to me.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I was diagnosed with PTSD during this time.  This diagnosis would eventually grow into Complex-PTSD.  

I have experienced burnout many times since, but never to the extent of how it was during those very dark, dark days of my late twenties/early thirties. Unfortunately, I am finding myself horribly burnout out again, more so than I have been in a very long time.  I am 41 years old.  My daughter will be 16 next month and my son will be 14 two months after that.  One October night in 2012, my world once again began to fall apart.  My husband, whom I had been with since 1998, sat me down and told me he didn’t want to be married any more, he didn’t want the responsibility of a family any more. 

Things continued to get worse and worse. My husband was self-destructing from a life-long struggle with untreated severe clinical depression and he was taking the family down with him.  I will not go into detail of the three years of hell that my family went through over this, but I will say that my son developed PTSD from emotional abuse by his father.  My daughter grieved like her father had died, yet there was a stranger walking around with his face. 

Fast forward three years, my husband finally agreed to get professional help and has since come home. We have spent the last year trying to rebuild our family.  Five months ago we moved to a very isolated area with dream.  We would build a house together and start our new life as a family, all four of us together.  Unfortunately, life happens when you are making other plans. 

We have been living in what can be described as a glorified shed with tarps for walls. It is the end of November. We have no plumbing or insulation. What electricity we have comes from heavy duty extension cords that are plugged into the meter outside and drugged into the house. We can’t run much on them or we end up popping circuits.  We do have a wood stove, but with no insulation, it can only keep the house just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the bedrooms are even colder.  We are miserable.

Due to unforeseen financial problems over the last few months, who knows yet when we will have plumbing. My in-laws’ house is about a football field’s length away. We utilize their kitchen and plumbing. They are very caring people, but their house is small and they are very elderly.  My mother-in-law has had two strokes, is diabetic, has blood pressure problems, and needs round the clock care which my father-in-law provides.  Their house is very unpredictable and stressful.  It is hard to explain, but no one can handle being in their house for more than a few hours. We are looking at another six to eight more months without plumbing. It realistically could be longer than that.

Even though I call my husband “my husband”, we are not legally married any more. He made sure of that during those three years of hell.  He recently has informed me that he doesn’t know what makes me happy and he doesn’t know how to meet my needs when it comes to our relationship.  That really hit me hard. After all these years, he still doesn’t know how to be a husband to me (he has admitted that he has sucked at being a husband and father), but there is a positive note to this.  He wants to learn and he is listening.  Progress has been at a snail’s pace, though, painfully slow, but for the first time he is putting in real effort. He is committed and is determined to make our relationship work.   

Then there is my employment situation. I have been a certified teacher for 18 years in grades Kindergarten – 12th grade.  The 2011-2012 school year literally almost killed me with stress.  Over the past four years I have slowly been transitioning myself away from working a daily teaching job.  I can no longer physically or mentally continue working every day and also care for my two children who cannot attend a regular school day at a school.  They are both homeschooled, but are also enrolled in our local Home Link program, and my daughter receives her education services at our local high school by attending only mornings Monday – Friday. 

I finished my Master’s degree last April. I now officially have the credentials to say I am both a professional in Autism Education and a Science Teacher, yet I am still under employed and I don’t see how that is going to change anytime soon.  As of now I have five invisible disabilities:  Autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Complex-PTSD, and Dyscalculia.  I struggle everyday with chronic pain, Misophonia, anxiety mixed with depression, and I struggle to live in a world that is not designed for someone like me. I have been on ten different anti-depressants, five different anti-anxiety medications, and three different sleep aids.  I have tried a variety of pain medications as well.  I have paradoxical effects with all these types of medications. Nothing works for me and only makes things worse.

My medication is running. I have been a runner for 23 years and I fight every day to stay out of a wheel chair.  Due to the continued degradation of my connective tissues all over my body from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it is only a matter of time before running may be taken from me. I have already had to give up weight lifting, backpacking, mowing, gardening in other than large pots, picking boxes up, moving furniture, the list keeps growing every time another injury occurs or another body system begins to fail. I carry on, though. I just brace up my joints, bind up my torso, and continue to persevere.  I have to, but it gets harder and harder when the feeling of hope just isn’t there. The chronic pain wears you down.

With all of this, I am still struggling in thinking about what brings me hope.

The first thing that comes to mind as I have been typing all this out are the two young people who kept me going before when I found myself horribly burned out, my two children. They are everything to me and I am determined to persevere above all odds for them, always.

I have been told by my own mother that she would never be able to do what I do. If it had been her raising my children instead of me, my daughter would have been sent away a long time ago. As for my son, his needs would also have been ignored just like mine had growing up, because he is so “high-functioning” in my mother’s eyes.  Neither my son nor I are “high-functioning”, but we are quiet enough to be easily ignored.

Both my children have Dysgraphia and both are autistic (my daughter as an accompanying expressive language impairment and my son does not).

My daughter was also diagnosed with Bipolar II (but it may instead be Schizo-affective Disorder – Bipolar Type) with debilitating anxiety. She takes six type of medication either once, twice, or three times a day depending on the type. We have alarms set to help her remember to take her medication. She has been hospitalized once for suicidal thoughts and hallucinations telling her to use knives to kill herself.  

My son was also diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety as well as Misophonia. He also struggles with re-occurring depression. He takes two types of medication once or twice a day depending on the type. He has been on suicide watch twice.

Then there is the glimmer of hope that comes when I look in my husband’s eyes now and see the man I married in there. In his eyes I see an older, tired, and struggling version, but I see hope there, too.  He sees a future for us, a future that I thought we had lost that one October night when he decided to give up on me, our family, and the life we had. 

I have not reached the same point where he is, but I want to.  This place where we live now is where he grew up.  This is his world, but it is not mine.  This is why I am not at the same point where he is.  This world is so foreign to me.  The language is different, the mannerisms are different, the way of life is different, and I am cut off from my world due to our rotten living conditions.  No internet and all my belongings, my tools I use to self-regulate and make my environment safe and comfortable, are all locked up in storage.

My senses have been on overdrive since moving here. Everything is too loud and too bright. It hurts here.  Then there is the problem of my husband’s recent poor choices haunting us.  During those three years of hell he involved himself with four women in ways he shouldn’t have.  One of these women he purposely used to rip our family apart and my children and I caught him with her. Neither had feelings for each other, which just made it worse for me.  This woman ended up marrying my husband’s first wife and they both show up at my in-laws’ house on a regular basis. They are also both invited to family gatherings, gatherings we can’t go to because of their presence.  I am reminded of my recent trauma and loss all the time.  I can’t get away from it. This has taken a considerable toll on me.

“Though, when we begin to lose hope, things can seem bleak. When we run into constant resistance and are prevented from reaching our goals we can start to feel like there is nothing to live for. If we can’t get to where we want to be and don’t feel in control of our life, what’s the point?” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

I have been finding myself asking, “What’s the point?”

What is the point? Why do I keep going when all there seems to be is endless struggle and pain?

The answer:

Because I must!

My life would be very different if I had been dealt a different set of cards. I know this, but there is no point in lamenting over that fact. I was dealt a certain set of cards and I have to live with what I was given and make the most of it. 

Over the years, I have written a lot about persevering and not giving up. I have to keep on fighting.  I have to keep moving forward.  I have to keep trying to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.  When I was at my darkest all those years ago, I kept telling myself that the tunnel will end and light will be reached again.  I knew it would happen, because that was the only option available.

I am there again telling myself that this dark, burned out tunnel that I have found myself in will eventually end. It has to.  I don’t know what I will find when I reach the light again.  My life may once again be transformed into something I wasn’t planning on, but at least I will be there to see that transformation. 

I will persevere. I will keep moving forward.  I will keep on keeping on.  That is the only option I have. 

 

Perhaps that is where my hope really lies, by keep on keeping on . . .

 

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

“I Don’t Know What To Do.” – A Parent’s Dilemma

NOTE: This blog was posted with my children’s permission. It may be removed at any time if my children feel they no longer want this information shared in this public format. Information contained in this blog involves the struggle with mental illness in conjunction with autism. 

Trigger Warning: Reference to suicidal thoughts and plans for suicide. 

I don’t know what to do.

For seven and a half years we have been trying to find the “right” path, the “right” combinations of medications, the “right” program for school, the “right” way to handle issues at home. I don’t know what the “right” way is anymore.

You can’t help a person who doesn’t want to be helped.

I have to keep reminding myself that. You can’t help a person who doesn’t want to be helped.  All you can do is give them a door and directions on how to go through that door.  They have to decide if they (1) want to go through that door and (2) if they want to put in the effort necessary to go through the door.

Even if they do what is necessary to go through the door, they also have to keep putting in the effort to be able to stay on that other side of the door. If they don’t, they fall backwards.  I understand that maintaining that effort is hard, especially in the beginning.  It is like one step forward and two steps back. This is why proper support is so important.  It keeps the person from sliding too far back.  They need a hand to hold on to, a hand that can help guide them, especially on those really difficult days

The thing is, that hand that is always there can only do so much. That hand can beg, plead, bargain, demand, surrender one day only to try again the next.  The hand can keep doing that day after day, but that hand will start to question how long they can keep at it. How long do they keep putting in the effort when the other person that they are trying to help refuses to grab hold? How long do they allow the other person to continue to disrupt the lives of others in the family? 

It sounds selfish, I know. A parent should not waiver when helping their child.  A parent needs to be there always, right?

I just don’t know what to do anymore.

We have tried so damn much, even tried things multiple times just to make sure. This week my oldest will be ending her 90 day outpatient treatment program and I am afraid for her.  I am afraid what is going to happen next and the stress that it will put on her and our family. The first month and a half had been very promising.  She was calmer than I had seen her in such a long time.  She was excited to go the program. After losing three months of school due to emotional distress, she actually wanted to go to this school/counseling/outpatient program.  Unfortunately, things have taken a rather negative turn.  Over the last month and a half and she has had two depression break through periods.

She never made it to the program last week and only managed three hours of school work. That doesn’t bode well for passing 10th grade.

Seven and a half years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with bipolar. Over the years, that diagnosis evolved into Bipolar II and Autism Level 2 with accompanying expressive language impairment.  She has started on psychiatric medication when she was only eight years old. She has been on as many as six different medications at a time taking them 3 – 5 times a day and still we have been no closer to establishing stabilization of her moods.  She will tell you that the medications have slowed down her mood fluctuations, but that is it. The official term for the type of bipolar she has is Juvenile Onset Bipolar – “Fear of Harm” Phenotype that is ultra-rapid cycling. 

For more information about “Fear of Harm” Phenotype – The 6 Dimensions of the Fear of Harm (FOH) Phenotype

For more information about rapid cycling Bipolar – Rapid Cycling and its Treatment

She ended up in the hospital this past spring due to hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. The voices were telling my daughter to use knives to kill herself. At that time it was thought that maybe what we are dealing with is Schizioaffective Disorder – Bipolar TypeMy daughter has talked about her hallucinations for years, but this was the first time the voices were telling her a suicide plan.  Only time will tell if her diagnosis evolves again.

Whatever my daughter is struggling with, we have yet to find a combination of therapy and medications that will help her stabilize. Our goal is six months of stable moods before we consider her stabilized.

It is not just the rapid mood cycling that is causing issues, it is also the mixture of bipolar and autism. Problems arise, because treatment for one will cause the symptoms of the other to worsen. This requires a very delicate balance of care.  There is also her age to consider.  In the state where we live in, once you turn 13 years old, you have a choice regarding your mental health care.  You can chose to not receive care, you can chose to not have your therapist disclose information to your parents, you can chose outpatient or inpatient care.  Inpatient care can be involuntary, but that takes a very long paper trail documenting pain, struggle, and failure.

We were fortunate enough to be able to have access to the outpatient treatment program that my daughter is just now finishing. It is two hours away from our house and it is an all-day affair (8:00AM to 4:30PM) Monday – Friday. At first it was workable.  It was summer time. I wasn’t working (I’m a teacher). We had been able to get fuel vouchers from Special Mobility Services, but only for a short time.  Our fuel vouchers were revoked for reasons we still do not fully understand and neither does the treatment center nor my daughter’s counselor. 

I live in a state that is rated 49th in mental health care.  What the treatment facility told us was that we had fallen victim to a system that is broken. There was nothing we could do.  I wasn’t going to pull my daughter out of a program that was helping and that she wanted to attend. This meant paying for all that fuel ourselves.  We are a low income family. Having to pay for the fuel in order to get my daughter needed medical care has put a considerable financial hardship on us.  Food is scarce in my house. Bills are paid late or are only partially paid. I stay in town for 8 ½ hours at the library Monday – Friday waiting for my daughter to finish her day, then we drive two hours to get home.  Most days my son joins us so he doesn’t have to be home alone.  We don’t have internet at our house or television services.  Being at the library allows my son access to the internet so he is able to work on school assignments.

Both my children are autistic and both are students of our local Home Link/homeschool program. They have recently started school in a third school district. The first failed to follow my son’s IEP, the second was honest with us about not knowing how to help my son. When people ask my son why he is in home school, he often tells them, “The school district didn’t know how to help me with my mental illness”.  He has debilitating anxiety issues (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety) as well as depression. He also has misophonia  which causes considerable problems for him. Just to be clear, Autism is not a mental illness.  It is a developmental disorder.  When my son speaks about his mental illness, he means exactly that.  He is not talking about his autism.

For more information about Misophonia – The Symptoms & Triggers of Misophonia

The first school district refused to grant my daughter an IEP citing loopholes as the reason. When we moved to the second school district, we discovered that she was three years behind her peers in reading ability. I ended up getting my daughter a private tutor to reteach her how to read and my son how to write. My daughter has gained ground these past four years, but is now four-five years behind her peers in reading ability.  It took nearly four years and a hospital stay before the second school district granted my daughter an IEP.  Both my children are highly intelligent, but struggle with learning disabilities.  Both have dysgraphia and my daughter also has dyslexia. Both need extra social and emotional support at school.

All four of us, both of my children, my husband, and me tend to have paradoxical effects from medications that are designed to affect the brain in some way. If not paradoxical effects, then no effects at all, meaning no benefit from the medication. Whether it is psychiatric medications (all of us) or pain medications (mainly me) it just doesn’t work for us.  Between adolescence and the sensitivity issue with medication, finding the “right” combination of medication has proven to be quite a challenge for my daughter. 

The most recent change was introducing Lithium. Yes, Lithium, the go to drug for bipolar, has been tried. It affected her bladder, her eyes, and caused agitation. Her body also metabolized it too fast. We could never get a high enough therapeutic dose in her body and the medication was increased three times to pretty high levels. We went back to using Tegretol which she has had some success with in slowing down her mood cycles. Hydroxyzine, which is an allergy medication, has helped with her high levels of anxiety. It is fast acting, but not enough. She was also taking Geodon (another mood stabilizer) that helped strengthen the effects of the Tegretol, but has since stopped due to insurance problems with getting that particular medication. She takes medication three times a day and is able to add a smaller hydroxyzine dose two more times to address her anxiety if needed.

Next week she starts half-day attendance at our local high school where she will receive the services listed on her IEP. The rest of her schooling will be at home.  This past week she fell into another depression period. She stopped caring for herself, stopped caring about anything, becoming defiant and aggressive. 

Part of this is not her fault. She has no control over what her brain does.  What she does have control over is using her skills, not hurting people verbally or physically, and wanting to get help. I understand that when you use up too many “spoons”, using your skills is just not an option.  I get that.  I have been there many times.

I don’t have the same struggles as she does, but I am personally familiar with some of them, and I also have the advantage of being an adult. I have had years of practice in developing my coping skills. I am autistic as well.  I struggle with debilitating anxiety and I also struggle with depression and Complex-PTSD, but I don’t have bipolar.  I have no idea what it is like to be at war with yourself in the way she describes.

I can help guide her in calming strategies and help her establish a sensory friendly environment. I can help her break down her school work into more understandable parts. I can remind her to take her medication and I can take her to her counseling appointments. I can advocate for her both with the doctors and with the school.  I can be there when she needs a hug and encouraging words when all her internal struggles become too much. I can tell her that I love her and will always love her even when her brain is telling her that everyone hates her or when her brain tells her that she hates everyone.  I can be that hand that is always there for her, but she needs to put in effort as well.

I can’t do everything for her. I understand that she is developmentally delayed, much more so than her brother and me, but she is also a teenager with typical teenage behaviors. She does not need to be coddled.  She needs to be treated as the 15 year old that she is.  She is a capable person, but either doesn’t believe it or doesn’t want to be. She regularly pulls out her helpless card citing that she can’t do anything; this includes school work, house work, and any every day thing.  She doesn’t like to be told that she is 15, but says instead that she is nine years old or six years old depending on the day and the level of her anxiety.  Sometimes she is clearly 15 years old and makes it well known, especially when she wants to control everything and everyone. The age she feels fluctuates with her moods.

I often remind myself, particularly on harder days, of all the amazing things that makes my daughter who she is. She loves Doctor Who and Star Wars.  She also loves Science Fiction, Action Adventure, and Fantasy. Her, her brother and I often communicate using echolalia from these different genera.  She speaks the language of science and often talks about becoming a limnologist when she grows up. She is the “Blue Earth Saver” as she is known on the computer games she plays.  She loves animals and is so gentle with them.  She is an incredibly perceptive and empathetic person who is deeply affected by stories of war, violence, death, and struggle. Her school work has to be adjusted for this reason.

My daughter is such a strong person and has such clarity when she is between mood swings. She has been through more crap during her short time on this planet than most adults have had to deal with their entire lives. This is why I think she is tired.  She is tired of the constant struggle.  She is tired of nothing working.  She says the medications just covers things up, just a Band-Aid, they don’t work. She tired of the constant war in her head and feeling afraid to leave our house. She is tired of everything hurting. Too bright, too loud, too rough, too many expectations, no understanding, no order, no predictability.  Home is safe,  home makes sense, home is where her things are, home is where her pets are, home is where she can escape into unconsciousness and sleep the day away.  

Therein lies the problem. She has been progressively giving up. Giving up her dreams of the future, giving up trying to do well in school (she was on the honor roll all through middle school), giving up on practicing her skills, giving up on trying to work with the family as a team, giving up self-care, just plain giving up on everyone and everything.  She is done.  That is it. No more trying. She is done with it all.

With the days getting shorter and colder, she is already beginning to slide backwards. The outpatient center was helping her, but continued progression requires her to put in the effort. She is done.  No more effort. 

So, what does a parent do in this situation? Just let her continue to decline?  Have her end up back in the hospital over and over again?  Have a judge end up finally taking her rights away so she can become an involuntary inpatient? Have a judge take mine and my husband’s rights away as parents which would lead to her being pulled out of our house and put into the system where a social worker controls her life?

These options are unacceptable to me.

I don’t know what to do.

I don’t know what else I can do to help her.

Seven and a half years of fighting for services from the schools, doctors, and the government. Seven and a half years of struggling to find the “right” combinations of medications. Seven and a half years of constant questioning and research on my part in trying to settle that little voice in my head that says we are missing something. She shouldn’t be struggling so much. WE ARE MISSING SOMETHING!!!!

Her autism wasn’t diagnosed until she was 10 years old, two years after she was diagnosed with bipolar and a year after her brother was diagnosed with autism. When she was a toddler, she was tested twice for autism, but they told me she didn’t have a high enough score for the diagnosis.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were using a criterion that was biased towards boys. I had to push for her to be reevaluated to check for autism, because once she was put on medication, her autistic traits started to really show. The bipolar was overshadowing her autism.  I had to push to have her evaluated for learning disabilities.  I knew as a teacher and a mom that something wasn’t right, but, once again, she was over looked.  She wasn’t a behavior problem at school.  She was quiet and could be ignored. I had to get outside professionals to evaluate both my children, because the school didn’t see a problem, didn’t see how they both struggled far too much.

I have actually fought for longer than seven and a half years. I have fought for my children’s well-being since they were born. I have been a parent for 15 ½ years.  I am also tired and I am running out of options. 

My hand is there and I will continue to offer it to my daughter no matter what, even if she doesn’t take it. I am a parent.  It is my job. I am not giving up on her. She is my Sunshine and always will be.  

Anxiety – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

(Trigger Warning: References to PTSD, Trauma, Bad Dreams)

Anxiety

Anxiety is the bane of my existence.

Now, don’t get me wrong, anxiety is actually very important to have for survival. Dr. Jelena Nesic Goranovic  explains the necessity of having anxiety:

“The emotional experience of fear and the physiological stress reaction (the ‘fight or flight’ reaction: increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating etc.) are very useful responses to dangerous situations or objects: our ancestors had it, apes and mice have it, even reptiles do. If it wasn’t for this unconditioned response to danger, most species – humans included – would not have survived the natural selection. Apart from enabling us to fight, freeze or flee in the face of danger, the physiological stress reaction also enables us to learn to avoid the same dangerous situation or object in future.”

This explanation is all well and good, but, for me (and others who experience debilitating anxiety) that “fight or flight” response happens way too often and it can wreak havoc in our lives. If we need anxiety as a survival mechanism, when does anxiety start becoming a bad thing? David Pitonyak, who is a very good story teller, has an interesting take on the matter. In his video, David discusses the pros and cons of having anxiety and also discusses how anxiety changes us, our physiology of our bodies, our homeostasis, if you will.

David Pitonyak talks about Anxiety

(Video – Length 6mins 53secs)

The problem arises when anxiety starts to interfere with your life. Basically, our imbedded survival mechanism backfires causing us significant distress. This is when anxiety begins to be considered a disorder.  There are many different types of anxiety that are considered disorders. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders: List of Anxiety Disorders

List of Short-Term Anxiety Disorders

Some types of anxiety disorders are short-term and often resolve themselves with the removal of a stressor. Here’s a list of anxiety disorders that are typically short-term:

  • Acute stress disorder – diagnosed when anxiety symptoms occur immediately following a trauma, but are short-lived.
  • Adjustment disorder with anxious features – diagnosed when a person develops anxiety symptoms in relation to a major life-changing event – like getting married or moving to another city. Symptoms generally start within three months of the stressful event and occur for six months or less.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder – generally resolves when the substance is discontinued or when withdrawal from the substance is over.

List of Long-Term Anxiety Disorders

Other types of anxiety disorders develop and remain long-term. Many start in childhood and last long into adulthood, particularly if treatment has not been sought.

This list of anxiety disorders includes:

  • Agoraphobiaa fear of being in a public place where escape would be embarrassing or difficult. This is particularly prevalent when a person fears they may have a panic attack.
  • Anxiety due to a general medical condition – this type of anxiety disorder can be short- or long-term depending on the medical condition. Anxiety often develops in relation to illnesses like heart conditions.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) anxiety symptoms occur in multiple environments and due to multiple objects or situations. Anxiety symptoms may not have a known cause.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)anxiety symptoms are in the form of intrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors (or mental acts). OCD is considered a chronic type of anxiety disorder.
  • Panic disorder consists of severe, immediate anxiety symptoms (a panic attack) due to a variety of causes, as well as the worry over having another panic attack.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) anxiety symptoms that occur after a trauma and are long-term in nature.
  • Social phobia, also referred to as social anxiety disorder anxiety symptoms occur in social or performance situations and stem from the fear of being humiliated or embarrassed.
  • Specific phobia (also known as a simple phobia) anxiety symptoms occur around a specific object or situation which results in avoidance.

Anxiety causes a loooong list of symptoms. You can find a comprehensive list here – Anxiety Symptoms. What happens to the body when a person is overwhelmed with anxiety? David Pitonyak, again, has an interesting take on the matter and it involves what David calls the “limbic brain”. In his video, David tells the story of what happened to his body during an anxiety provoking experience he had involving what he thought was a black bear in his office doorway. He then continues on to discuss the connection of a traumatic experience with developing PTSD. 

David Pitonyak Talks about the “Limbic Brain”and PTSD

(Video Length – 21 min 27secs)

I am Autistic and I have the anxiety that is commonly found in association with Autism. When you deal with the constant onslaught of sensory information bombarding your brain and body, you are going to experience apprehension when you leave a safe, familiar place that has been designed to fit your needs. When you have slow adaptability to change, you are going to feel apprehension when you are presented with an unexpected change.  I have worked hard to try to respond to an unexpected change in a manner where I say, “Let me process it for a little bit.”, or “Let me think about it for a little bit.”  This is a difficult thing for me to do, because my body and brain are screaming, “NO!!!!!” Many times, however, there is no chance to give my brain more time to process the unexpected change and it is painful when this happens.

I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD ) and it sucks. My brain will get stuck on a feedback loop over a worry that, for some reason, it cannot process adequately.  The worry is very real, but my brain will cycle the worry over and over again making it worse every time it cycles. The worry escalates and I can’t get my brain to calm down.  I am able to logically tell myself that this is not rational thinking on my part, but I can’t stop the feedback loop. When I get like this I need to be talked down. A lot of times I will send out an S.O.S. with an explanation online just to release the worry out into cyberspace. Other times I will talk to my husband in some form, electronically or verbally.

PTSD is a form of intense anxiety. I actually have Complex-PTSD and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The difference between PTSD and Complex-PTSD is that in PTSD there is usually just one specific trauma that is experienced. In Complex-PTSD, there are many layers of trauma that occurred over many years. 

More about my story on having Complex-PTSD ——> The Hell that is Spring

A year ago I found an article called PTSD Spirituality: Understanding & Identifying PTSD Triggers. I came across this article after I had been horribly triggered which lead me to finally writing The Volcano is Awake. This was my response to the article:

“It took me 10 years after I was diagnosed with PTSD before I could even write about my experiences. I have never been able to write it all in one setting, just chunks here and there. As for talking about, it took me a very long time to say anything other to my counselor or an immediate family member. I have managed over the years to say out loud to people that I have PTSD and that it developed mainly from medical trauma and lack of support and care that occurred over a period of three years.

I make a point to stay away from my triggers, but sometimes the triggers are out of your control. I was badly triggered last week. The anxiety and panic attacks have started again. I can’t verbalize what is happening to me right now. Every time I try I feel the panic rise. I am living my ordeal over again, but over these past 12 years since the initial trauma, I have learned coping skills. I know what is happening to me and I have been going through my list of reminders as I try to process this latest trigger. I feel this article is a great resource for the reminders that I need. I hope this information may also help others who are struggling with PTSD. Remember, you are not alone.”

Both my children struggle immensely with anxiety. My daughter is Autistic and has separation anxiety, and symptoms of GAD, Social Anxiety, and OCD. All these types of anxiety have been continuously discussed by her care team for years. Her anxiety has often been described by her counselor as “Through the roof!”  My son is also Autistic and was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, and PTSD.  His anxiety has been so bad that half way through sixth grade he could no longer attend public school.

Anxiety is something that is all too familiar in my family. My husband also struggles with his own version of anxiety, but he doesn’t talk about it much.  One thing that is often left out of articles written about anxiety is information about stress dreams.  I am plagued by stress dreams, otherwise known as anxiety dreams. 

In When Anxiety Gives You Bad Dreams That Give You More Anxiety and Bad Dreams, Sarah Emerson states:

“Anxiety dreams, in their most elementary form, are bad dreams that cause the overwhelming feelings of panic and unease associated with waking anxiety. They’re very similar to nightmares, but instead of lurching you awake in a cold sweat, they sort of prod you into consciousness by jacking up your stress levels. Both occur during REM sleep, that critical period in which our most vivid and memorable dreams manifest.”

She also states:

“There’s “a correlation between sleep quality and how we process traumatic experiences,” she [Dr. Ina Djonlagic] added, which may help to explain why bad dreams, insomnia, and real-life anxiety can sometimes seem so hard to divorce.”

As I stated before, I am plagued by stress (anxiety) dreams. I have actually written about my experience. You can find more about that here – The Strange Nature of Dreams. Last night was no different.  Again, another difficult night of stress dreaming, which lead me to not being able to really function well the next day.  In trying to explain to my husband why I was not functioning well this morning, I sent him this message:

“Feeling out of sync today in body and mind. Dreams about sexual predators, escape, sickness, worry, and long awaited reunion, but unresolved and potentially unhappy ending. My dream left me feeling that great loss and grief were imminent. Epic stress dreaming on my part. No wonder I feel so out of sync. My brain couldn’t seem to pull it self into reality this morning.”

Anxiety is the bane of my existence.

I can’t get away from it, it’s always there in multiple forms. It haunts me in my waking hours and in my sleep. I am intolerant to medications that are typically prescribed to people with debilitating anxiety.  I also cannot tolerate any type of antidepressant or sleep aid.  What does a person do when they are struggling with anxiety?  I can only speak of myself, but what I do is run. I am a runner and have been a runner for over 20 years.  My body has been steadily falling apart due to being born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, but I keep running for my own sanity.  If I don’t, I know I will end up in the middle of the floor screaming or banging my head against a wall.  I am not exaggerating. I know this, because it has happened before many times.  I run, and when I have access to a pool, I lap swim.  I also write and I write and I write.  I create art, too. Draw, paint, sculpt, and design, etc., anything to direct all the energy that is coursing through my body that the anxiety feeds on.  I must keep my mind busy or it will busy itself in ways that are not healthy for me, draining my body of life energy, and leading to me not being able to really function and, if it continues longs enough, eventually contributing to burnout.

More information on burnout —-> The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?

“And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.”

Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art 

Quotes from Neil Gaiman – Inspirational Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts 2012.