PTSD and Burnout, or What a Shiny Button Told Me

We were out here in AZ only a few weeks when I caught a bad cold. First in ten years. It wasn’t surprising though. I was exhausted after moving cross-country, buying a car, driving for the first time in thirty-five years, learning the roads of my new neighborhood, finding grocery stores, pharmacies, barbers, dry cleaners, doctors for Jack, etc.

Then our furniture arrived and all which that entailed: putting up forty pictures, stocking the fridge and cabinets, setting up the closets, etc.

I tend towards constant hypervigilance, but thanks to Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) and other PTSD energy release methods I wrote about in my book PTSD: Frozen in Time, I’ve been able to sleep pretty regularly—and that’s key for my mental health.

I always have one eye on Jack. He’s almost thirty years older than me and had aortic valve replacement surgery in December. He also has only half of one kidney working. So I’m always surreptitiously checking on his wellbeing, if not overtly.

In early October, he had uncharacteristic GI tract distress. A few nights later, he had trouble breathing. Since we’d just gone to the cardiologist and Jack had no symptoms at that time and his blood pressure was consistently normal (we check it daily), we had no reason to believe it was a cardiac issue.

Fast forward to today. Over the last three weeks, I’ve taken him to ER twice and called 911 once. He was hospitalized twice and finally diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and bronchitis. With meds and exercise, he has a fifty-fifty chance to turn this around. (They suspect a bacterial infection weakened his heart, lungs, etc.)

It’s just me here in AZ – no family, except a cousin and 99-year old uncle outside Phoenix – so it’s vital I don’t burn out.

I’ve made sure to do TRE nearly every day because it relaxes my core enough to cry. Crying doesn’t just cleanse my soul, it also releases the stress hormone cortisol. Afterwards, I feel lighter, feelings of overwhelm and fatigue dissipate, and my energy returns.

I’ve burned out twice before. The first time was when I was twenty-two and taking care of my mother who had cancer. Physically, I bounced back pretty fast after she passed away. I had youth and good health going for me.

I burned out again when I was forty-nine, [PTSD plus a workaholic lifestyle for decades and then no sleep for a year – hello hallucinations! — which I also detail in my book (it’s the chapter at the end called “Startle”.)] That took me years to recover from. (I’m sixty now.)

Funny thing—the irrational idea I unconsciously held that simply by having all this experience and knowledge, I can avoid burnout again. Ha!

A few days ago, Jack was home again and taking a nap. It was the late afternoon of a gorgeous, sunny Arizona day. The house was clean, the dishwasher humming, the washing machine on the dry cycle, the carpets vacuumed, the wood floors swept, the fridge packed with all sorts of good, healthy foods. The leaves of the trees outside my window danced along the walls.

I sat on my bed feeling pretty peaceful. I said a rosary as I looked out on the mountains. I turned my eyes away a moment, moved my hand, and jumped halfway off the bed. You’d think the Wicked Witch of the West just popped up from the floor when it was just the reflection of my moving hand caught by the shiny chrome button on the side of my white cargo pants.

My stomach caved. I hadn’t realized I was in such a state of fight or flight. For me, when I’m in that place of startle, I know I’m not doing that well.

So what am I going to do to keep myself as healthy as I can?

Based on my history, rest is essential. It’s broken up in the night right now because Jack has unpredictable trouble breathing and walking, so when he gets up (and he gets up a lot on a diuretic), I get up. All I can do is grab naps during the day when I can.

I’ll continue to do TRE and cry out the stress.

I’m tired, so I haven’t felt like exercising—but for me that’s vital, too. Not crazy two-hour workouts, but optimally half an hour a day or every other day.

I’ve gone back to listening to binaural beats. I learned about them a few years ago. It’s music with a beat built in that changes the pulse of your brain to a more relaxed state. Your brain irresistibly matches the beat. (I downloaded an album off ITunes literally called “Binaural Beats”.) That helps me calm down when I’m too wired to rest.

We’ve been watching favorite or classic movies that give us a happy feeling (endorphins!) like Casablanca, The African Queen, The Secret of Roan Inish and The Sound of Music or diverting action films like The Equalizer or the Bourne movies.

I make super healthy meals for us and an anti-inflammatory drink made up of the juice of one lemon, three tbs. apple cider vinegar and eight ounces of water sweetened with two tsp. of maple syrup. (The lemon and apple cider vinegar are acidic in the glass, but metabolized by the body as alkaline.) I can feel the difference in my energy when I drink that.

When I do errands, I put CD’s on the car stereo and blast the music. Eric Clapton, Santana, Aretha…. Man, does that give me a soul-saving charge.

I bought a hummingbird feeder today. We have a little patio that faces the mountains. At least once a day, a hummingbird darts in, looks around for food and finding none, darts back out again. I’d love for the hummingbirds to stay just a little while.

I want to do as much life affirming and enjoyable stuff as I can.

I also feel good when I take a moment before sleep and think about what I loved about the day.

Today I loved the beautiful mountains behind our place, the gorgeous blue sky and perfect weather, my morning Coke, finally returning to writing again while Jack took a nap, talking to the kind lady who works at Panera as I waited for the onion soup to-go (which Jack loves), blasting “Layla” on the way to the grocery store, meeting a friendly neighbor this evening who asked about Jack, and seeing Jack’s dear face every time I walked into the living room (that’s his base right now).

Life is such a challenge sometimes, but I think that’s the point. How can I evolve? How can I become a better person?

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10 thoughts on “PTSD and Burnout, or What a Shiny Button Told Me

  1. I’m so glad to have an update on how things are going since the move. It sounds like a lot of stress, especially with Jack’s health.You are so good at being able to incorporate all you self-care tools, and now you get to see the mountains out your door. Sending you hugs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Alexis! With all that’s been going on, I haven’t taken time to do things like check my favorite blogs like yours. I need to make the time to do my normal, life affirming stuff. Back in ER this a.m. He’s stable. Hugs back to you and thank you so much for your support.

      Liked by 1 person

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