I had PTSD for many years, but no clue what it really meant and how it affected my life. Those were pre-internet years in my 20’s when I was burned-out and too exhausted to care. I remained too exhausted to care for many years thereafter.
I didn’t know what I felt most of the time. I’d been conditioned since childhood to focus on markers in my environment, and to accept the reality of my significant others as to my identity and wellbeing.
Thankfully, that feels like a long time ago. But I still appreciate clues as to when stress is brewing within.
One clue is to watch my feet.
I had no idea until I moved in with Jack, ten years ago, that when I am stressed or anxious or going into fight or flight, I move my feet a certain way.
For instance, Jack and I would be sitting side by side on the couch, with our legs stretched out and resting on the ottoman, watching a movie. My feet would be crossed at the ankles, (my usual position when sitting on the couch).
I became aware that sometimes, for no good reason, I’d find myself rubbing my feet together. They wouldn’t itch or feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. There was physically no rationale for me to be doing this. It was a weird, unconscious, instinctual thing, which I had no trouble stopping once I became aware of it.
Somewhere along the way, I realized my rubbing-feet were manifesting internal stress I wasn’t in touch with and I eventually found various ways to release it. (See my book PTSD: Frozen in Time.)
Joe Navarro wrote a wonderful book about body language called What Every Body Is Saying (An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People).
It’s a fun, highly readable book. He talks a lot about the survival brain and how our bodies react to stress and trauma. He said, “Having conducted thousands of interviews for the FBI, I learned how to concentrate on the suspect’s feet and legs first, moving upward in my observations until I read the face last. When it comes to honesty, truthfulness decreases as we move from the feet to the head.”
I learned, from the many books I eventually read about PTSD, that in a trauma situation, faced with fight or flight (or freeze or collapse), the psoas muscle deep within our core is activated first because it allows us to run or take a stand and fight. It’s evolutionary behavior, so it makes sense our feet and legs show our stress. Those of us with PTSD can get triggered any number of ways. I can’t feel my psoas muscle, but I can watch my feet to get a hint.
Sometimes at night, I’m very tired and so sure I’ll fall right to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow. I get in bed, turn off the light, close my eyes and…find my feet rubbing against each other. I know better than to ignore it.
I sit up then and do an inventory because something is bothering me and I know if I don’t release that stress or emotional energy, I won’t sleep for a long time, no matter how pooped I am.
I hope, Dear Reader, you sleep deeply and well tonight and have pleasant dreams. I hope I do, too.