shockingly hard.

I’ve talked about a lot of things over the year that have resulted in people responding “I thought I was the only one!” or “Wait, this is normal?”

It’s generally been about Brazilian wax farts, my uterus, chin hairs, nipple hairs, orgasms on the treadmill, and those weird stinky things that get caught up in the back of your throat.

I’ve also covered crummier stuff: secondary infertility, antenatal depression, regular ol’ depression, endometriosis, and a marriage attempting to survive graduate school.

However sexual assault, rape, PTSD, multi-diagnosed mental illnesses, sociopathy, triggers, shock…well those are things I’m still navigating. I can’t say a whole lot about them with certainty because I have yet to come out of the other side of them, and while I’ve made it awfully far, I still have a very long way to go.

Good news? I have a therapist who can sit across from me every week and give a name to what I’m experiencing. I never considered my experience worthy of being called PTSD. PTSD is what happens to people who have been in war. Shot at. Lost limbs. Watched friends die.

Not for girls who got raped. Girls who got raped did something to deserve it, right?

Wrong.

Someday when I’m strong enough there will be many, many words on rape culture and raising girls in this mess we’re currently in.

There have been several instances in the last year that have left me in shock. Literal shock, not just figurative shock. Have you ever experienced something that wasn’t quite traumatic, but was incredibly upsetting? For me, I am able go about my daily tasks feeling as though I am floating above myself, “Clearly this can’t be real. Maybe it isn’t that big of a deal? This feels like it should be a big deal. But look at me functioning! (Kind of? I think?)” only to completely and unexpectedly fall apart several days or weeks later. That’s shock! It’s not very elegant or obvious, it’s simply a clever way our brains protect ourselves until we’re able to deal with whatever happened. Knowing that at some point I’m going to fall apart after something really stressful happens makes it much easier to be patient with myself when it does happen. (And much easier for those around me to understand. I also try to stay out of public because my let down from stress generally comes in the form of the ugliest, loudest, most guttural sobbing requiring no less than half a roll of double ply toilet paper or one small box of tissues.

So far nothing I’ve been through has been completely solo. Someone has been able to relate to every part, just not all of them collectively.

Blech. This has been really hard to write and it’s getting harder. So I’m just going to stop right here.

Grace.

In the meantime, someday I will do something like this.

 

 

 

 

the big sensitive strawberry.

For decades my mom has said  I grew up in an entirely different world than everyone else and she was never quite sure what to do with me.

I spent most of my childhood and well into my adulthood wondering what was wrong with me, why was I so different from my family? Why was I so odd and why didn’t they seem to like me very much? I often felt like the heart-shaped, hulked out strawberry with three humps on the bottom that makes all the other strawberries look dainty and normal.

Earlier this year my therapist asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about being a highly sensitive person (HSP.) Sensitivity has such a negative connotation anymore, so to be highly sensitive sounded awful. But as she asked me questions about my childhood and current reality it became very clear that I most certainly fall into the category of highly sensitive. It turns out my mom wasn’t completely wrong, while my sister and I grew up in the same house with the same experiences — the way I experienced the world was, and continues to be, entirely different than those closest to me.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain is with a football game.

Cody at a football game: Watches the players play the game. Is happy when his team scores, is unhappy when something bad happens.

Me at a football game: LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE! LOOK AT THE SEA OF COLORS AND ALL THE DIFFERENT SHIRTS PEOPLE ARE WEARING. Look at all the relationships and friendships and interactions! THEY LOOK SO HAPPY TOGETHER! OH! The must be in a fight. LOOK STRONG PEOPLE ON THE FIELD PLAYING A GAME! Wait, what are all those lines for? What is that guy doing over there in the corner with that stick? CHEERLEADERS! I smell popcorn! SOMEONE IS SMOKING BY ME I WILL END THEM. I wonder where the cameras are. These benches really do make your rear go numb. Wait, where did we park? Look at the shadows on the field! I hope it will be a good sunset. When is my next dentist appointment? THEY SCORED! EVERYONE IS SO HAPPY AND LOUD! Look at that cute baby coming up the stairs, I wouldn’t bring a baby to a football game. When was my last period anyway? Is Cody having a good time? I really like that girl’s hair. Did I go to high school with that kid? OMG COTTON CANDY! I always forget which is offense and which is defense. I wish football season lasted longer, it’s so much more entertaining than baseball. Do I correct the people behind me who think the stadium was built in 1998 or do I keep listening to the couple in front of me talking about where they’re going to eat after the show? OH! That guy over there brought a flask! I CAUGHT YOU! I wonder what it would be like in a suite. I wonder if we’ll ever be in a suite. Is football the same everywhere you go? That player has nice arms. WAIT WHERE DID THE BALL GO? Why is it called ‘seeding’ or is it ‘seating?’ Neither one makes much sense. OOH BAND! AND CHEERLEADERS! Wait, who’s that guy with the flag? He looks out of place. How much longer? I do love how cozy this sweatshirt is, I’m glad I brought it. Cody smells good. Whoops, forgot to watch the actual game again and now everyone is cheering so I’ll just go along with it. FOCUS ON THE GAME! Oooh, but look at her hot dog, I could go for a hot dog. I wonder if they have dill relish. Sweet relish is the pits. Should I go to the restroom now or wait until halftime when everyone else goes? Maybe I don’t even need to go? What if there was an earthquake? Would we make it? If there were a stampede where would I go? How would I find Cody? *check pockets for ID and cash just in case*  IT’S SO LOUD. THERE’S SO MANY SOUNDS. A CACOPHONY OF FOOTBALL NOISES! But wait, wow, it’s getting really loud. I’m kind of overwhelmed. Whoa, I’m exhausted.

And that’s just the first five minutes.

So take this example and apply it to any number of situations. Concerts, holiday shopping, church, backyard BBQs, road trips, the DMV, watching TV or even getting a pap smear. All five senses are on all the time, which is rich and wondrous in many settings, but absolutely exhausting in others. Sometimes even scary.

Tulip Time-2947

You see, up until a few years ago I didn’t see the worst case scenario in every situation. PTSD will really eff with you in that regard, anxiety will turn up the volume, and sensitivity will have a person completely and constantly on edge and high alert. Fight or flight all. the. time.

I’ve never known anything else.

I’ve only found two others in my orbit who score higher than me on the HSP test, and both of them practice reiki. So I’m just sensitive enough to know when you’re having a shitty day, but not sensitive enough to heal your life energy. It’s probably a good thing too, as I’m the only extroverted HSP I’ve come across as well. If you give an extrovert the power to heal through energy they’ll likely crumble in a heap in an attempt to save the world. (Or at least that seems like what would happen.)

Most of the time I like being the giant strawberry. Means I can show the other strawberries what they’re missing out on (when I feel like sharing, that is.)

tl;dr: If you’ve always felt like a hacky sack in a world full of tennis balls, you may be highly sensitive. And if you are? Cool. Me too.

 

just start somehwere.

Here’s what I’ve learned about mental illness over the last eight months:

1. If you really want to get better, mental illness needs to be treated aggressively and constantly maintained. If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer you know there’s no “casual” way to treat cancer. Treatment is fast, aggressive, and constantly monitored. I’ve had therapy in the past, I’ve been on medication under the care of my regular doctor for ages, but the truth is I had slipped so far these treatments could barely be considered bandages on a shark bite. Since January I have been relentless in trying to get better. I have added, changed, and upped different medications more than a half dozen times under the care of a psychiatrist. I have appointments scheduled with both my psych and therapist through the end of the year with a treatment plan that ends no sooner than next summer. It’s been a holy damn marathon, and I’m exhausted — but I can finally start to feel the pieces falling back into the places they’re supposed to be.

2. Healthy coping mechanisms can be pretty boring. However, after awhile, the unhealthy ones have become less and less appealing. For the first year or so after the terrible thing happened, I drank. And drank and drank and drank and drank. Today I told Cody that over the last three years I had felt so uncomfortable with my own existence that anything that changed my state of mind was a welcome escape, dumb and drunk was better than sitting in my own emotional mess. One of the first things my doctors and therapists told me to do was stop drinking and stop sleeping my life away, there was a time I would cry and cry every night because I had no immediate escape from how miserable I was — I just had to sit in it — and it was awful. Little by little I recognized little things I could do that made me feel better. There were still times I drank, or crawled back into bed when no one was looking. I learned to give myself some grace in these situations, and as I’ve become stronger the ability to resist feels less like a burden and more like a conscious choice to take care of myself.

3. The brain has a magnificent way of protecting itself from things that hurt. Mine has developed emotional and mental cushioning around the really hurty parts that has kept me going (albeit not very well.) When I read about my diagnosis now, I don’t feel overwhelmed and broken. I realize my brain has done exactly what a million brains before mine has done in an attempt to survive. Unfortunately, to really heal I’ve had to go back into those tender places and poke until the blisters pop and take very good care of myself while it heals properly. Only two of my diagnoses are actual chemical imbalances. the others are a result of trauma — they have all done this magnificent little dance together in a desperate attempt to protect me from getting hurt again. Final count is major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, complex post traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

4. When I first started receiving treatment, a therapist told me that there would come a day when the terrible thing wasn’t my story, it was only part of my story. Over the last several weeks I can finally feel this becoming a reality. I could have come here plenty of times and declared “I’M BETTER!” and I hesitate to even claim I’m doing better now because I have fallen back down a dozen times throughout this entire process, but I’ve gotten up at least one more time than I’ve ever fallen down — and that’s a big deal. Back in January I gave myself a year to notice a difference, and now that I’m coming up on 8 months I don’t have a problem adding another 6 months to that year to really make sure I’ve given myself sufficient grace to not only get better, but also stronger.

5. If I could pick one thing for people to realize from what I’ve been through it’s that trauma of any sort sucks and there’s no way to know how it will affect you, and there’s no one way or even a timeline for getting better. It doesn’t matter what your trauma was, trauma is trauma and trying to compare them is useless. My life fell apart in 2014, it may have not been obvious to anyone watching from the outside, but the evidence is there. The pattern is present.

I don’t know what’s next. There are  so many options, places where I could attempt to pick up the pieces of my old life and begin building upon them again. New opportunities that never existed or occurred to me before. The scariest part is simply getting started.

These 830 words are my attempt to do just that.