PTSD and a Sense of Safety

I’ve moved far away from the place I lived with Jack. The entire area was awash with dashed hopes and sad memories for me. I was crying like crazy all the time. It felt unsustainable. Even the beautiful mountains brought tears to my eyes. How Jack loved them. We’d stop at the beginning of our daily walk and he’d look up and say, “Look at those mountains. I never thought I’d live in a place like this. It’s so beautiful.”

They say wherever you go, there you are, and that’s true.

But I am so glad I moved.

I have extended family members in the neighborhood and I don’t have sad memories popping up everywhere I go.

I love my new apartment. I feel safe. My survival brain was popping off all the time in the old place. Hyper-hyper-vigilance. Exaggerated startle response. Here, it sighs and says, “Ahhhhh.”

One reason I love my new pad is it’s surrounded by big old trees. I love big old trees. I love their shade. I love the shadows they make on the wall through the window.

Another reason is the space plan. I can see all the doors from my position on the couch in the living room or working at the sink in the kitchen or reading in bed. At the risk of sounding like a mobster, I only feel comfortable in a room when my back is to a wall and I can see all the doors. If you have PTSD, you know what I’m talking about.

Strange thing. I got lost my first day here. Need I say, those Google Maps aren’t always accurate. So I was driving through a residential area wondering where the heck I was and suddenly I teared up. Not because of a bad memory, but because the area seemed so wonderfully familiar. It felt like home even though I’d never been there.

I know that I cannot always feel safe. One of the chief characteristics of suffering PTSD trauma, especially in childhood, is forever losing the sense that the world is a safe place.

I can be nice to myself, though. I can do things to make it more likely that I’ll feel safe and have a sense of well-being.

I’m ripe for triggers when I’m tired and stressed. A couple precursor clues that I might flip out in the near future are intrusive thoughts and/or crazy, obsessive negative thinking, especially going off in my head at somebody for something that may never happen.

So I try to get enough sleep. That often means naps here and there to cobble together enough hours. If I can’t cobble enough, music helps. I plug in my earbuds and listen to a playlist or binaural beats.

If I’m feeling lowdown, I’ll ask, What can I do to comfort myself or feel better today? It’s not a totally selfish endeavor. When I feel good, I treat others well and as far as I’m concerned—that’s the only reason we’re here. Love and compassion.

Today, I made my bed first thing and ate a bowl of fruit. I’ll watch The Young & Restless and then start hanging framed pieces on my blank walls. Later, I’ll work-out. I hope to take a nap. I’m pretty burned out from the last two years, but nothing remotely like I was when I met Jack eleven years ago. (For that, please check out my short-read Startle: A True Story of PTSD and the Paranormal. It’s also included at the end of my book: PTSD: Frozen in Time.) I bought a novel I loved in my twenties, called Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. I always need a good read nearby for the midnight to dawn hours when sleep is hit or miss.

I hope you have a great day today and do multiple things to give yourself a sense of wellbeing.


Rebuilding What Was Lost

I read about the oldest man in the world the other day. Yisrael Kristal is 113. He was born in Poland and at 13 was looking forward to his bar mitzvah when WWI broke out and his celebration was postponed indefinitely. In WWII, he survived Auschwitz, weighing only 82 pounds at his liberation. He moved to Israel and rebuilt his life, raising a family and opening a business. He finally got to celebrate his bar mitzvah last week.

I liked his comments upon receiving an award from the Guinness World Record.

“I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men then me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

I liked that concept of rebuilding what is lost after trauma.

First, I’d have to identify what’s lost, though.

When I went to a shaman a few years ago and the parts of my soul that took flight at moments of intense trauma returned, I was instructed to sit down and ask each one why they left, what would make them happy, and what would make them stay. Then I was to do whatever it was that would make them happy and make them stay.

They would only stay if they were safe and if I would do the things that brought them a sense of well-being. The sixteen-year old wanted to drive again and blast tunes. I finally bought a car six weeks ago and today I was on the road blasting Aretha Franklin. The little one wanted coloring books and dolls and Jack has bought me these things. The twenty-two year old wanted to feel joy again, to go places, to meet people and have adventures. I’m working on that.

(There were more parts of my soul lost than these. I wrote about it in my book PTSD: Frozen in Time.)

For me, PTSD was mostly decades of non-feeling, broken up with moments of rage and despair. There was no joy, no sense of well-being or safety.

I stopped on the road from Phoenix to Tucson on Tuesday and had an ice cold orange drink. It was so startlingly tasty, I felt shot up with joy! As Patricia Grace said to me: It’s the simple things. (Check out her fabulous memoir Shattered.)

And it is the simple things. The hummingbirds and butterflies outside my window. A clear blue sky. A shooting star. The moon. The smell of rain in the air. Jimmy Durante singing, “Make Someone Happy”. The sunlight that comes into my bedroom each morning. A birthday card with a scratch-off Lotto ticket. Framing the pictures of the planties I had to give away when I left Chicago and hanging them in our new home. A restful nap. Reading a good book. A delicious chocolate cupcake. Music. Making Jack laugh. Taking care of Jack.

What makes you feel safe? What brings you well-being and joy?