In my late twenties, my PTSD symptoms were getting worse and worse. I hadn’t been diagnosed yet and kept looking for solutions outside myself—a better job, a new love, new friends, enjoyable hobbies, and any recognition that I was somehow of value.
I knew I enjoyed performing and thought that might pull me out of my unpredictable states of hyperarousal, numbness and/or despair. I began trying out for shows and succeeded in landing roles, but to my baffled dismay, I found that although some nights I felt great and was able to put on entertaining performances, other nights, I felt like the walking dead, unable to act my way out of a paperback.
It didn’t matter if there was a packed house in front of me. I’d stand on stage feeling absolutely nothing and my performances reflected it.
I didn’t understand I was dissociating and ultimately blamed my numbness and apathy on the material.
So I wrote a one-woman show, figuring I’d always feel enthusiastic about performing that since the content would always come from a deeply-felt place in my heart.
Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case. I continued to dissociate and got terrible reviews.
Man, did I go down fast.
The show ended and, over the course of the next year, I went into a very dark place.
Growing up, my reality was denied daily. I survived by living in accordance with other people’s version of reality. (Ironically, my show was about the consequences of denying reality.)
In adulthood, unbeknownst to me, I still depended on other people to determine my reality. Therefore, if theater critics thought my show a failure, it was a failure—and, of course, so was I.
It wasn’t true, but that’s how I felt.
About nine months after the show closed, I was in such torpid despair, I couldn’t make it to work much anymore and, though I didn’t have any money saved, I quit my job.
My boyfriend suggested we move in together. I didn’t have much choice since I couldn’t pay my rent, so I picked out a nice place and moved in, asking him to wait a bit before he also moved in. I needed a little time to myself.
I found a doctor through my therapist who prescribed a medication I never heard of and can’t remember to this day.
Alone in the new apartment, I hoped for relief with the meds.
They knocked me out like you wouldn’t believe, which I loved.
But every time I woke, I felt just as terrible as I did before.
So I’d take four or five or six more pills and go back to bed because I couldn’t stand being conscious.
I did this every few hours for a few days.
One morning, I woke and, as usual, immediately took some more pills. (I had a lot of them. I’d already filled the refill.)
I laid back down on my bed and the weirdest thing happened.
As I felt myself dropping into oblivion, I heard an almost eardrum-shattering prehistoric roar under my bed.
It was so loud and terrifying, I jumped up on the mattress, leaped across the room, ran into the living room and called my boyfriend, telling him he could move in immediately. Then I went outside and sat on the steps, waiting for him. I wasn’t going back in there alone!
(In hindsight, I believe that roar came from The Other Side. They knew I would die shortly if I continued taking those pills. That’s the only thing that makes sense.)
The next thing I remember was waking up in the emergency room five days later.
Words are inadequate to describe the terror I felt waking up there with no memory of the preceding days.
I froze in fear when the doctor said he had no choice but to commit me because I‘d overdosed. It didn’t matter me telling him it was accidental. I was being committed.
I had no insurance and was afraid I’d have to go to one of Illinois’ infamous state hospitals. My brother made some calls, though, and got me a “welfare bed” in a prominent hospital in an affluent suburb nearby.
You can imagine my state of hypervigilance in the eleven days I stayed in the psychiatric ward. I was terrified knowing I’d almost accidentally killed myself and that I’d lost my freedom. My immediate future was to be determined by strangers.
I’d read a book once called Women and Madness and remembered the author saying that staff in mental hospitals think female patients are getting better if they take showers every day and put on make-up. You can bet that’s what I did first thing every morning.
When I got out of the hospital, I was still in despair. Nothing had changed, except I now owed the hospital over $7,000.
I realized I could not afford the luxury of one negative thought because it would lead me to greater despair and drugs and possibly another overdose, voluntary or involuntary, and I never ever wanted to end up committed to a mental ward again.
So I cut out the negative thinking one minute at a time.
It was HARD.
Sometimes, I’d literally narrate what I was doing in the here-and-now to avoid negative thinking. I’d walk to the bus stop to go to work (I’d gotten another job–selling light fixtures!) and would think, Now I’m walking down the steps. I see a wet leaf on the sidewalk. The leaves are beginning to bud on the trees. There’s a cat in that window. The sidewalk buckles here. I’m coming to the stop sign now….
And so on.
At work, I’d focus on nothing but work.
I made sure to always have a good book on hand and an entertaining VCR movie at home. (Remember those?)
It was really difficult to sustain positive or neutral thinking at first, but day by day I got better at it and at some point, it became second nature.
I began to feel good, really good, because I was succeeding at controlling what went on in my mind and I also felt so much better because I wasn’t castigating myself anymore or going over and over every lousy thing that ever happened to me.
Sometimes a painful subject might light upon the wire, but I wouldn’t let it build a nest there. I’d stay calm and get back in the moment.
I did have one terrible flashback in that period, but flashbacks are totally different than negative thoughts.
By the time spring came around, I was feeling pretty darn good even though the only thing that had changed was my thinking.
I kept looking for a job that would pay more money and give me more responsibility, and finally found one.
I was thrilled.
I saved money and moved out of my boyfriend’s apartment into the tiniest living space that ever existed.
But I LOVED it.
It was the cutest little efficiency you ever saw. It was a studio in the back of a huge mansion in Chicago’s Gold Coast. (It had been a servant’s living quarters in the olden days.)
I began to wake every morning with the most wonderful feeling in my body. It actually vibrated with wellbeing.
I never experienced anything like it.
I felt fantastic every single day. I was incredibly happy.
I loved my new job. I was a manager and a proposal writer and, at long last, being paid enough to live a little.
I connected with an old friend and we started hanging out and having adventures.
I began dating again.
And then, I can’t remember the circumstances anymore, but one day I got a hold of some painkillers, which kick-started my obsessive addict-self. (I quit tranquilizers at nineteen and drinking at twenty-four.)
I also started dating my boss.
I think you can guess how this all turned out.
I became obsessed with getting more pain pills.
I stopped being vigilant in my positive thinking.
When I tried to break up with my boss, he became cruel and manipulative.
Little by little, I lost my physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
Eventually, I got another job, but it took a long time, and it was years before I got off the painkillers.
I know from experience that watching my thoughts and keeping them neutral, positive or constructive can be accomplished with sustained effort, and lead to fabulous wellbeing, but when I am dealing with PTSD pain and discomfort, I find it more difficult to do compared to how it was when I was in my early thirties and my anti-depressants were effective in masking a lot of my physical symptoms.
As detailed in my book, PTSD Frozen in Time, when I got off the meds three and a half years ago, all the symptoms from my twenties came back, but through a number of techniques, I released most of the buried energy causing me pain and discomfort in my feet, legs, back and stomach.
Lately, I’m dealing with uncomfortable density, constriction and/or vibrations above my chest. (I do not have a heart condition. I check that regularly since it’s in the family.)
If I’m not mindful of these sensations and don’t take action to alleviate them, I find myself smoking like crazy and running around doing errand after errand, going faster and faster, in an unconscious effort to escape my body.
Sometimes, by the end of the night or in the wee hours, I’ve become totally hypervigilant and feel trapped and immobilized. When I feel that old paralysis, I’m least likely to do TRE or The Tapping Solution or mindful meditation or dance, although I know these methods would help me break out of it.
Last night, I read a fabulous memoir called Heart of Miracles by Karen Henson Jones. It’s a beautifully-written narrative of her experience after a heart surgery gone wrong, the two or three years of debilitating pain and illness that followed, and her efforts at healing. At one time, she was consulting with twenty-four doctors. Then one day, she took up Kundalini Yoga and within a month found her health significantly improved.
She also begins a spiritual quest that takes her to India and Bhutan and…oh gosh, there’s so much to this book. It’s really inspiring.
What leaped off the page for me last night was the pranic breathing aspect of Kundalini. I’d been doing some of that on and off for a few years (the breathing, not the yoga), but not daily. It brought to mind what my chiropractor said to me two years ago, in response to the fact that I was still smoking, “Well, that’s one way of breathing deeply on a regular basis.”
I said to Jack today, “I’m going to try to do extended periods of pranic breathing three times a day for a while. I know I smoke more when my chest feels constricted or dense or like it’s vibrating wildly. Maybe this will help.”
Today is Day One. When I finish this blog post, I’m going to do my third period of deep pranic breathing in an effort to break up that area of density above my chest. Maybe if I do it throughout the day, I won’t end my nights so hypervigilant and tense. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Allow me to introduce Little Mama.
Little Mama is the very first plantie I ever bought. I call her Little Mama because she’s brought six other planties into the world (with her cuttings and a little help from me).
Little Mama is very nurturing and kind. Her aura is pink. Her favorite song is “Day by Day” from Godspell. She is very quiet inside and full of wisdom and patience. I asked the Powers That Be (spirit guides, spirit animals, angels and so on) to give me a sign of support one day before I laid down to do my mindful meditation. I fell into a Theta Brain Wave State and right before I resurfaced to normal consciousness, a screen shot of Little Mama presented itself to me in my head. She was so close, sending a message of love and healing support.
I love Little Mama.
Little Mama in Real Life