PTSD: The Long and Winding Road

I’ve felt so tired lately, and for good reason. In addition to unpredictable trouble sleeping, IBS-related stomach discomfort, the hangovers of cortisol flooding (after fight-or-flight triggers), and hypervigilance, there have been major health crises in my primary family since last September. I won’t go into all the tedious details, but these events included three life-threatening operations with complications and attendant caretaking.

And then, my dear husband, Jack, and I decided a couple months ago to relocate from Chicago to Arizona at the end of this summer.

We are super excited to move, but because of my husband’s heart condition and other health issues (he’s decades older than me), I’m doing a significant portion of the preparatory work (packing, scouting for homes, streamlining finances, finding homes for our planties and the furniture we won’t need, researching and interviewing movers, etc.).

Doing all this suits me fine really. I like to organize. Also, as an adult child of an alcoholic, one of the roles I unconsciously took on long ago was “caretaker” and it’s still second nature to watch over others and manage complex situations, especially emergencies. (I think a lot of us PTSD’ers are great in emergencies when, at last, our insides match our outsides!)

So originally, I was going to write a blog solely focused on the issue of PTSD and fatigue.

But then I thought about where I was at when I got off the meds three and a half years ago, (and was shocked to discover myself riddled with all the symptoms I’d had twenty-five years before, pre-meds) and instead decided to contemplate how far I’ve come.

(I write in detail about this in my book Frozen in Time: Adventures in Releasing Buried Energy and all I did to alleviate or get rid of PTSD symptoms.)

I wouldn’t have been able to take care of my beloved uncle, brother and husband during their health crises or even go alone on a scouting expedition to Arizona a couple weeks ago, if I hadn’t found ways of alleviating or getting rid of debilitating PTSD symptoms.

The most disabling symptom to reemerge off the meds was physical pain. First, it was in my feet, then my right gluteal muscle and lower back, then it spread in sciatica down the back of my left leg, then pain hit my neck. There was a time I couldn’t sit due to pain. I could only lie down, knees up, feet flat or stand, leaning on one leg. And then there was this incredible, indescribable pain in my solar plexus, unrelated to my digestive cycle.

I was so sure I was dying, so positive, not just from the mystery pain (the doctors could not definitively find anything organically wrong with me), but from the surging energy that woke me, speeding up and down my arms like mice running as fast as they could from my biceps to my hands, the terrifying overwhelming nausea that would bring me to my knees and had no relation to stomach acidity, and the feeling of imminent physical collapse that would strike out of nowhere.

I began reading books on PTSD like crazy. (I list a lot of them in my blog post on Recommended Books on Healing.)

I discovered Peter Levine and Somatic Therapy and came to understand all about trauma energy–the original trauma energy mobilized to deal with the threat of annihilation or equivalent that essentially froze in my system when I couldn’t fight or run or later shake out and release, which is the body’s natural response after trauma and would have rebalanced my system and prevented PTSD symptoms.

I realized that for decades I’d also buried most strong emotions that my survival brain, meds, and later narcotics, were unable to block. I can only remember crying a few times between my twenties and fifties. (On occasion, I did feel overwhelming anger and rage beginning in my early-twenties, and released it, most successfully, through work-outs.)

I had so much inside of me that needed to come out and until I found ways to release it all, I was apparently going to feel it as manifested in physical pain, nausea, near-faints, and feelings of bizarre energy manically buzzing through my body.

I discovered all this talk about buried energy and pain was true one morning, when my feet woke me with burning pain. I went into the bathroom to give my poor little feeties a sea salt soak. I put my earbuds on and began listening to a new sixties playlist I’d created, and suddenly began sobbing like a baby. I couldn’t believe how much I was crying–and without any idea what exactly I was crying about. When I was done, to my surprise and delight, I realized my feet didn’t hurt anymore. And I hadn’t put them in the sea salt bath!

I think the Other Side gave me the paradigm for my future healing that morning. I had to begin releasing the sadness–the feelings of anguish, abandonment, loneliness, and grief from my childhood, and in response to the sad waste of numb and despairing decades alone that followed.

In the last three and a half years, some of the things I did to release that old buried trauma and emotional energy included Somatic Therapy, soul retrieval with a shaman, Trauma Releasing Exercises, mindful meditation, and sessions with an energy healer and chiropractor.

And I cried.

I cried me a river day after day after day. Then one day, all the physical pain was gone, all the nausea, near faints and bizarre buzzing energy were gone, and the sadness became very faint.

And man, it was just in time! As soon as I got rid of all those symptoms, the family emergencies hit the fan. And, of course, we made our decision to move cross-country.

So I am tired. There’s no doubt about it. I still have sleep issues, but they’re better. I usually sleep every night now. I am frequently hypervigilant, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. And although I have digestive-related discomfort, that seems to be improving rapidly, too.

Today I feel so grateful for how far I’ve come. I like this new feeling of hope for the future.

Hooray!!

 

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Sleep, Sleep, Sleep

“Take Sominex tonight and sleep, safe and restful, sleep, sleep, sleep.”

I remember seeing that commercial for Sominex in the sixties. Oh, were there only something safe and non-addictive that worked to help me sleep, sleep, sleep!

Tranquilizers are the worst. You take them every day for two weeks and they stop being as effective as they were initially. Up the dose, two more weeks go by, up the dose again and so on. And they rewire your brain big-time–not in a good way. Getting off them when I was twenty was hell. But it can be done. You just have to accept the discomfort of withdrawal. (It can be dangerous, so only do this under a doctor’s supervision. I, unfortunately, did not. It could have been so much easier.)

Imipramine worked for about twenty years, and then it didn’t. Ditto Zyprexa (for seven years).

When I was 49, I averaged about an hour of sleep a night. Man, did I start hallucinating!!! Or seeing ghosts…or worse. (I wrote about this in Startle: A True Story of PTSD and the Paranormal.)

Anyhoo, eventually I stopped taking all meds prescribed for my PTSD because they weren’t working anymore.

Sleep has since been a challenge, although it’s getting better.

I usually put together six hours within a twelve hour period. If I’m going through a stressful period, I sleep for half an hour, then wake abruptly–hypervigilant. I’m up for an hour or two before I fall back. Sometimes I wake early morning and am up for a couple hours, then back to sleep for two. I’m lucky I can do this since I’m not working nine-to-five anymore. Sometimes I get six solid. It’s getting better, but s-l-o-w-l-y.

I’ve been tired since I was a teenager. I couldn’t sleep until dawn back then. I thought that meant I was a night owl. Now I know it had more to do with my childhood. I was programmed. My body associates nighttime with bad things. There are many nights I still don’t feel safe enough to sleep until the sun comes up.

So it’s tough trying to relax to go to sleep.

There is one surefire way for me to drop off and that is if I blank my mind, which is hard to do. But if I can do it, if I can keep all thoughts at bay for about ten or fifteen seconds, I will fall asleep.

I get so tired of being tired.

One good thing about being tired, though, is my mind slips into the alpha or theta brain states faster and then it’s easier to have shamanic-type experiences.

Last week, I read John Perkins’ book about shapeshifting. One of the shamans he spoke with advised him to listen to his heart. He said the heart is connected to the Universe and will help you if you ask questions and listen. So I asked my heart to show me what’s going on. Why am I so tired? What can I do to get my energy back? Then I put my hand over my heart and blanked my mind.

I got an involuntary screenshot of someone on a wild horse in a rodeo. The horse keeps trying to buck them, but they’re holding on. I figure the message meant I’ve been riding the wild waves of primitive instinct, up and down, up and down, holding on—and that comes at a cost.

The extreme states of PTSD are exhausting. The anger, fear and sadness—not to mention the flooding of cortisol and other stress hormones related to the fight-or-flight states.

Peter Levine says the process of releasing buried energy is slow. It happens in bits and pieces. The body will heal naturally, at its own rate, as long as we don’t block it with drugs and alcohol.

Lima Bean reminds me I’m so much better than I was three years ago. All the physical pain (except IBS-related) went away. The unbearable feelings of grief dissipated completely. And…

What’s that?

Who is Lima Bean?

Forgive me. Allow me to introduce Lima Bean. (See picture below.)

I adopted her five years ago. She was a wee young thing then. Pretty soon, she’ll be taller than me. She’s a cool hipster and night owl. She’s mostly dug jazz since I’ve known her, but she recently discovered B.B. King’s “Live at the Regal” album and can’t get enough of it. She keeps asking me to take her to the South Side (of Chicago) to hear some real blues. She says since I’m usually up anyway, what’s the prob? I tell her if I were still single, yes, but it’s more complicated now. I gave her a Christmas ornament to groove with in the meantime. The Christmas ornament hasn’t given me his name yet, but his favorite song is “Big Noise from Winnetka” (original instrumental version). When I play it, he vibrates round the roots of Lima Bean and she nods along to the rhythm in a cool modified way. At least when I can’t sleep, Lima Bean and Christmas Ornament are wide awake with me.

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