The day after a session with my psychologist, my brain feels like someone made scrambled eggs out of it—slowly over medium heat so it gets really creamy, like the French do.
Yesterday, my psychologist and I had a cognitive processing session for PTSD. We talked and talked about the secrets I bury in the back of my mind. The dark ones. The ones no one knows but me.
Today, I feel out of it. Lost. Jumbled. Confused. Burnt out.
My doctor started by asking how the two weeks since our last appointment went and how my journaling is going (which I talk about in this blog post).
As a part of my prolonged exposure therapy, I have homework.
I always loved doing homework—my overactive brain always thrived in workbooks and writing assignments. I used to spend hours during summertime with my nose buried in pages of word puzzles or doing homework from one of the prep courses I’d take. Homework was fun for me. Learning is fun for me. But this isn’t that kind of homework.
This is homework about trauma. It’s not fun.
I’m instructed to hand write about a specific traumatic event in first person, present tense, with all the details/thoughts/emotions from that event.
In general, people with PTSD avoid thinking and talking about trauma-related topics because the feelings associated with it are super overwhelming and panic-inducing. The idea of prolonged exposure therapy is to get super specific, allow your brain to go back to that memory, then repeat the exercise over and over until you don’t have a trauma response.
I’m sure you’re asking, “Becca, what’s a trauma response?”
A trauma response is an emotional reaction to exposure to the trauma event (a trigger).
I’ve experienced things like: panic attacks, vomiting, migraine, shivering or sweating uncontrollably, hyperventilating, rash, shortness of breath.
Yeah, I know. Sucks, huh?
So, that’s what I’ve been up to. Twice a week since January 9.
My doctor and I discussed how I’ve been doing. He asks me, “How have you been doing with journaling? Are your SUDS going down?”
SUDS = subjective units of distress, which is basically the trauma response I just taught you about on a scale from 1-100, aka how much are you freaking out right now?
“Well… it’s getting easier,” I tell my doctor, with heavy hesitation. “I’m not freaking out as much after I write. So, I think that means it’s working?”
But it feels like a slow process.
I know there’s no rule to how long it takes for you to get over something, but I’m impatient. I am tired of this trauma. I want it out of my head and my body. I don’t want a flashback to that room every time I close my eyes or think of something that reminds me of it (consciously or subconsciously). I want to move on.
I’m trying to be forgiving of myself and know that this is a process. There is no routine or schedule for mental illness. It’s intangible. It’s unpredictable.
I’m trying to think of this time in my life positively; as a stepping stone to the best version of myself that I haven’t been able to reach because it’s been held back by years of sexual violence and emotional espionage.
But, this is only the first trauma out of many.
I was also in a two year relationship in my youth that ended in psychological and emotional abuse. Complex PTSD is the results of trauma over an extended amount of time and it really fucks with people. Some scientists describe it as the body’s defense mechanism against intense stress; the symptoms of PTSD actually serving to keep the person aware of future threat. Complex PTSD is different from PTSD; it often occurs in people who’ve experienced trauma, violence and extreme stress over an extended period of time. A person may have felt trapped and physically or psychologically unable to escape.
I know that I am privileged that I’m able to do this expensive treatment with a really great doctor with years of experience in pain psychology and PTSD with a focus on DV and veterans. I am grateful that my family is supportive and my husband is loving and patient. I am grateful that my chosen career as a creative consultant as allowed me to work when I’m able to. I am grateful that some of my best ideas come to me when I’m at my lowest points.
My doctor and I discussed journaling more, and that I should also try saying it into a voice recording app, then playing it back so I hear it in my own voice. Reading that sentence makes it sound like something I used to do to take notes in college—yet this time it feels daunting and makes me anxious.
We talked about a few other things on my mind: how my blog post going viral made me feel (excited, but scared that if I find success, an ex-abuser would find me), how helping people makes me feel like I have a purpose, what my current triggers are.
Which brings me to today; I’m anxious. I feel ill. Like, sick, but in my head. Really depressed. Jumbled.
I can’t stay focused. Thoughts racing from one to another. Vision foggy because my eyes keep tearing. Dizzy. Nauseated.
I try to tell myself that it’s okay to feel those things. I know how to manage the symptoms. That’s part of this journey. I know my brain is taking the time to process what I discussed with my psychologist. I know you need rest after physical therapy or surgery or even the gym, and therapy is no different. I need to rest and let my brain rewire itself.
I challenged myself to work for a few hours, which I did, successfully, albeit slowly. When I’m like this, I bounce from task to task, tab to tab. It takes a lot of strength to complete anything.
I even left my house to go to Target, which was a trigger just a few months ago (bright lights, sounds, overloaded by everything). They didn’t have everything I needed at Target, so I had to go to a second store.
You know that feeling when you’re really exhausted and the thought of going anywhere just sounds too hard? That’s how I felt going to the second grocery store.
But goddamn, I was determined to find kindling so we could use our brand new Char-Broil BBQ to cook two Wagyu beef steaks that got sent to us accidentally from Instacart.
So I did. And it was worth it, because that steak was amazing.
Sometimes, I have to push myself further than I want to go.
That’s what I’m learning with this PTSD treatment too.
How was your day?