November 17, 2014

Learning patience

Learning to have patience with the PTSD recovery process has been (and still is) a hard lesson. In the beginning, I really struggled to accept that it would take time to heal and to manage the PTSD. I worried that people would think I was pathetic, wallowing in self-pity. It went against my ‘strong persona’.

It was only with the shock of my third episode that I was forced to accept that this wouldn’t be lightly termed ‘pathetic or wallowing’, and that recovery would take whatever time it took. I realized I had no choice but to listen to my ‘self’. My body and mind had clearly had enough, my unconscious took charge – if I wasn’t going to stop and heal the source wound then they were going to stop and make me!

My life as I knew it was over so if I was to recover, regenerate and live I had to find patience and trust in the recovery process. A timely realization, yes, but putting that patience into practice was far harder than expected. It’s safe to say patience has never been my forte!

‘Fine, Mr PTSD, if you want my full attention, then you’re going to get it!’

My initial interpretation of the patience required to get well was to throw the kitchen sink at the recovery process. I gave myself permission to take the time I needed – off work, family stuff, life – all the while believing that if I worked really, really hard, then I’d fast-track the recovery process and get back to normal life quick-sticks.

So ‘project get well’ went into overdrive. I wrote stacks of notes pre, during and after each doctor’s session. I read extensively around both PTSD and CSA. I added in complementary therapies (acupuncture, massage, family constellations), engaged different areas of my brain in an attempt switch off from the flooding and to create new neural pathways (riding, a new language, painting), exercised (training, runs, daily walks whatever the weather), implemented a supportive nutrition plan and became an expert in the sleep-dance (trying anything & everything to be able to sleep, a whole post in itself) etc, etc….this was just the top line.

I both allowed for the fact I was ill, and didn’t. Sure, I gave myself space to ‘get well’ but I simultaneously ignored my illness! I scheduled the hell out of ‘project get well’ as if it were a work project and I was in good health. Hum. So it wasn’t long before I collapsed in tears of frustration, exhaustion and despair. Whatever I did with ‘project get well’ I just couldn’t seem to make my recovery go any faster. Instead, I became overwhelmed by my own regime and perceived weakness. I had zero patience with myself.

My doctor likened the patience required to other forms of healing and growth: you can’t make a broken leg fix, or a plant grow, faster.

Her point being that it would take time to heal the wound that caused the PTSD. She reiterated I was working really hard, and I eventually learnt to trust her on this even though I felt I was never doing enough, fast enough. We created islands in the sea of PTSD. My doctor’s sessions were the biggest rocks, twice a week minimum. However, if we were dealing with something particularly difficult or potentially episode triggering it was more, some bad times every day.

Sometimes I just wanted to bury my head in the sand, bury the wound and give up any attempt to neutralise it. My doctor outlined two stark options:

  • Smooth everything over, deal with the short-term impact of the CSA and then pretty much keep my protective modus operandi. A short-term, and ultimately ineffective solution.
  • Go deeper and try to heal the vulnerabilities resulting from the sexual abuse, re-construct my skewed belief system. A longer but more effective solution that would eventually make me more resilient and able to withstand subsequent re-wounding.

I either had to be patient, face this horrible stuff in depth, properly, now – not fun, very scary and the last thing I wanted to do – OR, face the prospect of endless recurring episodes and living in the shadow of PTSD. There was a third option but that was no choice.

So, I finally learnt that setting arbitrary fixed dates for when I would be well again was wholly counter-productive. Pressurizing myself with an overly intensive regime, being hard on myself, worrying about others thinking I was being pathetic – none of these were helpful to, or speeded up, recovery.

I frequently imagined people (my family, friends) thinking ‘God, just get over it, it’s the past’ – and I couldn’t have agreed more. Trouble was PTSD doesn’t work like that. My PTSD has been wholly present. Not just in the episodes, or the nightmares, but also in the necessary unpacking, re-filing and work needed to transform these memories, understand the belief system the abuse created and put them in the past where they belong. It takes time to re-build a person.

Ultimately that’s the true horror of PTSD, you are trapped in the worst experiences, on a loop, reminded of them at every turn in a world years and miles away – yet your only escape route is to face them head on until you can map a new, safe, way out that you can always find again.

Once I accepted patience was required, I felt improvements more quickly. I had to remind myself every day that I’m not a failure, not pathetic, and to try not to listen to anything else my super harsh inner voice said. (Haha… not easy and not always successful). Rather, I’m dealing with a nasty wound, that’s gone septic (!). I’ve coped with that wound for years on my own. I’m strong. Healing this nasty wound takes strength and it takes time. Patience.

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