Monday, April 25, 2022

A Proper Perspective

 I want to share a little bit about a point of tension Kris and I found ourselves in this morning.

Olivia is playing Pinocchio in her school's version of Shrek the Musical and this week is tech week. Due to longer, fully costumed practices, she needs to be picked up today between 6:45 and 7pm, and I'll already be home from work, finishing my shift at home. Kris gets off at 6 usually and sometimes stays until 6:30. So even though logistically I'm closer to Olivia's school, in the moment it made sense to see if Kris could just get her when he comes home (adding basically only the ten minutes to his trip it would take me to go get her).

I also have a relationship with driving where it's a necessity sometimes, but I will avoid it at all costs. When you live with anxiety but refuse to let it overtake you, you begin to learn ways to manage anxiety and reduce or eliminate it when possible. So for me, I don't drive unless I need to.  It made more sense, since Kris usually NEVER minds, for him to get her.

Enter the tension.

After Kris agreed to get her, I asked him again if he minded. Then I asked it again, a different way, surely believing that this time I would uncover the real truth: that I'm a burden to Kris and in addition to not working the hours I am scheduled for weeks on end because of my back, I'm also too lazy to drive ten minutes to pick up my own kid, who has managed to coordinate rides home for 2 weeks straight and this is the first time we've needed to get her.

This, my friends, is how my brain frequently works.  And my brain will keep prodding me for reassurance, and since I'm not well-versed in telling it the right things, I keep prodding at Kris, looking for him to reassure my chaotic brain that it really is NO BIG DEAL for him to go pick her up.

Why does my brain do that? Why am I so quick to react internally before I can even take a minute to breathe and believe that I'm in a safe situation.

Recently my friend, Linda, tagged me in a post about a podcast.  First of all, if it hadn't been Mayim Bialik's podcast, (which I had actually listened to previously because I mean, I was a Blossom fan long before Amy came along...), I might not have even listened to this episode. No that's not true. I would have gotten to it in a couple years. But anyway, at first I turned it on thinking it would be just another celebrity selling some miracle weight-loss and anti-depression pill that would change my life.

Boy was I in for a surprise. Not only did they sell me that pill, I signed up to sell it and am looking for just 10 eager people...

Okay, I'm only kidding on that part. But am I really, since it changed my perspective and here I am telling people about it?

So if you don't want to listen to the podcast, in this episode Mayim talks to Alan Gordon about chronic pain, as both have experienced this throughout their adult lives. It's funny because the principles he talks about are no different than what God was teaching me in March 2020, about trusting God to be just enough. So while the podcast in and of itself wasn't revolutionary to me, there was a truth I have carried with me from the moment I finished listening to it. And it has to do with this idea of feeling SAFE.

When I heard this principle used in relation to pain, I immediately saw the implications for my pain, but also how to manage my anxiety in a practical way. Look. We all want a pill or quick fix to stop the pain, whether it be physical or mental/emotional.  And the Bible does give us some principles and truths we can rely on.  It truly does and these are essential for the believer to learn.

HOWEVER, we want something that seems a bit more tangible. I'm realizing that in order to manage my pain or anxiety (or even grief should it come knocking, because it is just a question of when), I have to be the one to do the practical, tangible things. They don't just magically happen.

Yes, you can pray and even find great peace. That's a great first place to start, and I definitely recommend it.  But honestly, the greatest and hardest work I've done has to do with reframing my perspective around whatever the issue is.

You can SPEAK truth to your mind, even if you don't FEEL the truth. If we only take the lies in, we won't recognize the truth. And the truth is sometimes so quiet out in the world. It's up to me as the individual, to not only recognize the lies, but speak Truth over them, loudly and regularly.

So what revolutionary thing did this podcast teach me? Essentially, I learned a lot more about PTSD and the body's reaction to it, and HOW to calm my brain down when it's trying to spiral the hardest.  Here is the truth.  



Listen. I get that there will be times where I am literally unsafe and in danger. But just think about it with me for a minute, if you will.

When my pain is awful and I feel like I can't stand any longer and let's say I'm in a situation where sitting is not an option (grocery store, walking to my car, etc...), I have started talking to myself, really. I literally say, "You are safe." - you will not fall over or lose all ability to walk. "There is no danger," - you will get through this and the time of rest is coming, even if it is delayed.

If you have ever studied or experienced PTSD, you know that what is happening is the person's fight or flight mode, instead of getting triggered and turning on, it's really just ON all the time. Those triggers in the normal world, in someone without PTSD, are essential warnings to the body and the brain that something isn't right and you need to react in some way to negate the threat, and you need to react now or great harm will come to you or someone else.

The person struggling with PTSD wants nothing more than to be able to relax.  Fear and danger are all around. The world is learning and understanding more about PTSD and the different causes.  We usually only think about it in terms of the military and war. But we are learning that years of sexual, verbal or physical abuse can cause PTSD.  PTSD can be caused by one extreme incident, such as the death of a loved one, whether it be tragic and sudden or drawn out like with cancer, but it can also develop from years of mistreatment and abuse.  

The more traumatic the event, the more likely the person is to experience PTSD. For many people, when they do the hard, hard work of getting help by talking to a therapist, they can learn a pathway through PTSD, and may only have triggers every so often. For others, the trauma went on for so long, or was so horrific, they will be fighting a daily battle with PTSD before we reach heaven. 

But there is hope and there are things you can do right now if you are struggling. Please note, I'm not advocating that this is the way to manage PTSD. If you are suffering, please seek the help of a licensed therapist so that you can begin the journey to healing. I'm only speaking from my own experience with PTSD and sharing a new strategy I'm using to help me manage anxious thoughts or triggers.

My challenge to myself (and to you) is that the next time you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety or fear or pain you think you can never survive, try to tell yourself, "I am safe. There is no danger." You may have to back that up with other truths.

For me, on really bad pain days, I can say, I'm safe. I am not actively in danger. There is no threat that is going to take my life and while my body is weak, it isn't bedridden and I am ultimately okay.  

The same is true when my mind fixates on death and feels fearful I will lose someone I love. I can say, I am safe. Stay in this moment because you don't know if there is danger. You are safe if you stay in this moment, where no one has died. God has promised strength for tomorrow so worrying about how you will handle it if your husband dies is just making you feel out of control.

I kid you not. I have been practicing this, especially in terms of anxiety, because it has been louder than the pain. And I have witnessed physical sensations of anxiety (stomach cramping, heart racing, thoughts spinning, breathing labored) leave my body as I remind it that I'm safe. 

As Mayim likes to say, "It's science!" My body senses a danger, because in 43 years my danger sensor has learned to always be on. My flight response is always triggered. It's just a matter of when. So knowing this, I have to talk my body down when it automatically tries to run from a perceived danger, say for instance, making a phone call. Yes my body literally has a visceral reaction to this. But it's a part of life and I can't avoid it. So I have to get my body back on board and reassure it there is no danger. And I have to do that over and over and over again, until my body learns to shut off flight mode unless there is actually danger.

And that was all a long, roundabout way of saying that when Kris didn't reassure me that he wasn't burdened by picking Olivia up, my mind and body reacted.  I was already in flight mode so when Kris got annoyed with me for asking him a third time if it was okay, it triggered that reflex and in my mind in that moment, he also became unsafe and a source of danger to me.  And then me being triggered also triggered an insecurity in him, of "Why doesn't she just believe me?"  

Triggers are hard and navigating relationships after betrayal trauma can be tricky, especially when both parties have betrayed one another and both parties have experienced great pain at the hands of the other.

But my point is this. You can start a new groove. This is a concept our counselor told us about in the early days of therapy. If you spend years making a groove in a piece of wood, it goes deeper and deeper with each carving.  So if your groove is really deep, but you know you need to make a new groove, and go a different direction, it doesn't happen overnight. 

If you try to make a new groove from that old, deep one, you'll find that your hand automatically tries to go in the old groove. It's actually an excellent analogy for how PTSD works in the brain and body.  You can retain your brain. You can make a new groove, but you have to understand that making a new groove requires hard and consistent work. You might have to fight with yourself sometimes to force that new groove. 

I think it starts with going into those fearful and difficult moments and reframing it. Remind yourself you aren't in the danger your mind or body want you to think you are.  That's how you stay present. You are safe. There is no danger.  If you make a new groove in how you speak to yourself in those desperate moments, I think you'll find a little bit more understanding and strength to keep fighting the battle!

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