PTSD and Feeling Paralyzed

I was diagnosed with PTSD in my 20’s and immediately put on medication. At the time, I was like, Great, man, fine, whatever you want to call it, just give me something to make me feel better.

I didn’t know anything about PTSD, what caused it, the symptoms, and so on. I was just in a zombie state, numb or in despair, unable to sleep more than an hour or two a night, unable to keep a job very long. I was barely surviving.

There was no internet back then. Even if there were, I don’t know if I would have done that much research. I was in too bad a shape. You may know what that state of affliction feels like.

The meds helped insofar as I could sleep again. Sleeping regularly, I got my physical health back and, therefore, could keep a job much easier. (More on my story in PTSD: Frozen in Time.)

For about twenty years after diagnosis, I continued to live mostly in the dark as far as understanding PTSD.

Although I was socially adept at work and developed a successful career, I became increasingly isolated outside of the office.

When I was home in my apartment on weekends, I’d go from feeling fluid, self-assured, smart, and successfully independent on Friday evenings to feeling a complete failure at every level on Sunday nights–curled up on my couch feeling afraid, demoralized, physically cold (despite environmental warmth), almost paralyzed (despite athleticism), and in despair.

I did not understand this weekend-metamorphosis and shoved it out of my head the rest of the week.

Sometime in my 30’s, I read The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. (Subtitle: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse).

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my childhood trauma was not sexual abuse, but I had so many of the same survivor symptoms that the book spoke to me, especially on the issue of boundaries.

It’s been many years since I read that wonderful book, so please forgive my inexact and dusty paraphrasing of what I recall. If memory serves, the authors suggest something to the effect that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes don’t realize—at an unconscious, visceral level—that their bodies are their own now, under their power and control alone, and no one can touch them unless they say so.

They may understand this intellectually, but physically moving gets the message to the survival brain and calms the body down.

I remember them saying it might be helpful when a person is having trauma symptoms to pull their bodies back into the present moment by punching out or kicking out or somehow through movement letting their body/minds know there is no one in their personal space now. The adult survivor is physically free, they can move in whatever direction they want to go, no one is going to stop them. No one can come into their space unless they allow them (barring unthinkable scenarios).

This was an epiphany to me at the time. A real paradigm shift. It was the first book I read that related to what I was going through, years before I read a ton of books on PTSD (beginning with Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger.)

I thought of this recently because, since my husband’s death, I have experienced periods of feeling frozen again–tiny, powerless and paralyzed with fear.

But I’m not little anymore or powerless or frozen. It’s just a feeling, albeit an unpleasant one.

So…this morning I got out of bed (just physically moving sometimes rids me of the frozen, tiny feeling, although a workout or walk is more satisfying), had my berries, and started planning a brief road trip.

I’m going to drive up north to the town where my uncle and cousin live and check out apartments. Although the area I live in is beautiful, it’s shot through with the sadness of Jack’s illness, multiple hospitalizations and passing. Plus, I know almost no one here.

Also, the area up north is the closest to an “old neighborhood” for me after Chicago. I visited my dad and uncle there for over twenty years.

I hope you are having a day filled with moments of wellbeing and that you will hear a song or some music today that heals your heart.

Almost Felt Normal Today

It’s about 6 p.m. in Tucson at the moment. I’d like to take a nap, but don’t want to. I don’t want to wake and remember Jack is gone. So here I am writing a quick blog.

I know I have a good cry coming up. I’ve probably said this literally a hundred times to Jack, but why stop now? I hate crying.

Who does, right? It’s just that with my history, I’ve had to do a lot of it in the last four and a half years.

Oh well…as I wrote in my book (PTSD: Frozen in Time), I didn’t cry for decades so….it’s just that sometimes it feels like throwing up and that’s no fun.

I had a good break for a while, though. A really nice break. My emotional well-being was pretty beautiful. I evened out. But as would be expected after Jack’s death, I’m feeling pretty sad.

***

This morning, I got up early, had breakfast, exercised and went to a support group meeting.

It was great. It got me out of the house and out of my head, gave me perspective, and pushed my consciousness aside enough to hear what’s going on in other people’s lives.

I burst into tears twice. Once in compassion for another and once when I shared the sadness I was feeling.

I was talking with this one woman. She didn’t understand why she’s been feeling so angry lately and why she’s crying all the time and it’s been five years since her (violent, sexual) trauma and she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore and she feels like she’s going nuts and, after “getting past” childhood trauma years ago, why is this one so hard to kick and “Where is God in all this?”

Oh man, what can you say?

Sometimes a person needs to just get it out. Most of the time, I’m not asking to be fixed, just listened to with compassion and understanding.

Besides me, two other women came up and briefly shared their experience and she really bonded with one who had literally the exact same trauma situation happen to her (although by a different perpetrator).

What a mystery life is.

***

After grocery shopping, I got in the car, turned on the radio and heard an old song, “A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy. I burst into tears. It wasn’t even one of our songs. I won’t play our songs at the moment.

“A Summer Song” was actually before my time. I was seven or eight when that came out, but we had the forty-five when I was little. I always thought it was pretty and soft and gentle. It sounded kind and loving and that’s what Jack was. Kind, loving, and gentle. (But also a tough fire fighter from the south side of Chicago!)

***

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got a good cry on my schedule, then dinner and hopefully I’ll find a classic movie to watch before an early bedtime.

Last night, I watched “The Quiet Man”. It was wonderful. Maybe I’ll do “Casablanca” tonight. I haven’t watched it for six months.

You know the line, “We’ll always have Paris.”?

Well, I’ve never been to Europe, but for the fifteen years before I met Jack, I dreamt the most frustrating dream several nights a week. I kept trying to get to Paris and I never could get there. There was always some issue with the plane.

The night before I moved in with Jack, I had the happiest dream of my life even though it lasted but a moment.

In the dream, I stood in the sunlight on a beautiful, cobblestone street in Paris.

I’d finally made it.