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Because of my rape I do have PTSD. I don’t like strangers touching me. It’s one thing I actually hate and you can put that in caps if you like, I HATE it. It’s a trigger for me being touched by strangers, strange men especially. When triggers happen the doctors and I have developed some coping skills. They aren’t perfect but I am finding limited success using them and it’s getting a little easier.

I use some to all of the following coping skills for my PTSD when it flares up. It’s getting better but it’s taking forever. I might never be free of the triggers but I won’t stop working toward a day when I am free.

#1 Giving myself permission.

To feel
to make a mistake
to take a break

I mean even verbally telling myself it is ok to feel angry, sad, hurt, happy, loved, joyous. For a very long time I felt nothing, it protected me from further pain. Or so I thought at the time. It also bottled up so much pain and I probably suffered with it many years longer than I should have. Ultimately it is ok to cry, ok to laugh, ok to sing and ok to be shy. I am after all human and emotions are part of the human experience. They are wonderful and awesomely installed into who we are.

I am a perfectionist and hate mistakes, it’s hard to accept anything less than 100 percent from myself and others. I have to tell myself a B is a fine grade and I worked hard to get it. I have to tell myself I am only human, I make mistakes, I fall down and after it all I’ll get up, dust myself off and try again. I have to remind myself others are only human and they will let me down sometimes.

Sometimes I give myself a meditation time out. Some space to calm myself, relax and think for a moment alone. Sometimes I am doing #2 below and partaking in physical activity and others I sit quietly alone and just breath it all out.

#2 Exercise

Are you surprised? Probably not because people know I am physically fit and love the water especially surfing. Surfing and free hand climbing have always brought me to a peaceful place. Though I’ve run before as well as lifted weights, rode bicycles, roller blades and anything else that gets my body moving and my mind focused on not getting hurt while my body is in motion.

When I am at my lowest Surfing and climbing help me considerably. They are two things I can do alone with plenty of personal space. They are also somewhat dangerous so staying focused is a must. It lets my mind clear of what was bothering me while burning the nervous energy built up over the trigger.

I find this constructive and us this one probably most often. Of course I also surf and climb and run and just be active outside because it brings me joy and not just because I have a trigger.

#3 Organization and Structure

A fine line for someone with CDO (Which is OCD in the right alphabetical order). Organization brings me some peace because I know what’s coming. Sarah and my doctors have been working on “curve balls”. They want to make sure my days are not so rigidly planned that I can adapt easier when things have to change even last minute.

An example of a curve ball is a vacation we were supposed to take. I thought we’d be going home to Florida. Turns out we weren’t going to be going to Florida and that was the curve ball that would have hit me when we got to our connecting flight. As it turns out a second unplanned curve ball was thrown in her work not giving her time off.

So vacation canceled. 😦

But I organize everything I can and I try and structure my life into at least a basic routine. I’ve had to learn Structure verse total rigid Organization which took over my life for a time. Structure is a “general” schedule vs a rigid unchanging routine. So today my CDO lets go to settling for a basic structure in my days and knowing that can be intercepted at any time and I must just flow along or drown trying to swim back to the illusion of control.

I spent too much time chasing that illusion and swimming against the tides of life.

#5 Personal Space

Maintaining my own personal space and speaking up when it’s violated is important to minimizing triggers. Self advocating when people violate my space in a rational manner and then excusing myself to #1 or #2 so I can defuse the trigger sooner rather than later.

I am not the strongest person in standing up to others sometimes. When a big man gets in my personal space I’d rather run away than stand up and say back down. Some primal fear still remains of strange men and bigger men are far worse on the triggers for me.

Those triggers are so strong still I become violently ill when force to meet a man for the first time. I could know you over the internet for ten years and when confronted with that first meeting I become ill to the point of vomiting and diarrhea. I shake uncontrollably and I become frigidity. This got me detained by airport security once and to make it worse it was male officers in the room. I threw up on one of them it was an experience I’d like to never repeat.

So I feel if I can master my personal space and I can advocate for myself then I will be stronger in these situations. God I have so much work left to do.

#6 Regulate my anger

Something I’ve not been so good at yet. When I feel attacked I react still and it causes all manner of undesirable results. It flips triggers, and sets me on a dark path quickly. Lucky for me I don’t feel attacked often. I am sensitive to some subjects like my son, rape, and a few others.

Recently in court I let the lady for the state get under my skin when she said I was an unfit mother to adopt this little girl because “I cared so little about life I’d already given one child up for adoption”. That was definitely and attack on me, my choices, my rape, my past and my relationship with my son. Oh it hit all the triggers. I got angry and ended up admitting myself in the Psych ward for a few days. A forced “time out” of sorts.

Some of learning to control my anger is also in #7 below

#7 Avoiding toxic people/situations

Toxic people will work to trigger emotions. They seek control by their poisonous words and actions.

For me to be angry it is always required in person. I can read anything people write and not become angry. It’s hard to discern intent with pixels on a screen vs body and facial language. So when reading it’s just that reading pixels on a screen. These pixels have no power that for some reason body language, inflection and facial queues seem to have.

So learn who is toxic and avoid them as best I can. Learning also that “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate…” has been a lesson in toxic people as well.

#8 Have a support system

Sarah and I as well as my family closest to me have signals and they can read my triggers. They help me by interceding when they see the triggers or I signal I need space. They help provide option #1, space, time and safety.

Therapy, oh I can’t stress this one enough. Have doctors, other survivors, people as mentors and couches in place. Lean on them when needed, learn from them, listen to them and share with them. These are important things in minimizing the control triggers have. Learning you are not alone is important to never feeling alone.

People you can talk to outside of therapy. Trusted sources capable of giving good advice, listening and most of all not betraying your trust. Learn what is good advice and what is not.

This leads into #9 having a plan

#9 Have a Plan

Use family and friends to help in situations that make you nervous and set off triggers. lean on them to help. Sarah and Joey often play “wing man” so to speak helping me stay in safe distances. They know my queues, they recognize my triggers and I can count of them to help me through things.

If things become to much don’t be afraid to retreat. Sometimes it’s just leave the situation and others it’s def con 4 get out the nuke option. For me the nuke option is check back into the Psych ward. That is my final move, the check mate, the last resort. If I retreat and try to get to “high ground” or safety and still fell unsafe that is my nuclear option.

I have a plan to escape when I must, to allow others to help me with my triggers and because of the plan and therapy I am more willing to test my triggers than without these.

I’ve forced myself in the past to face triggers. Internal steel is not as strong as willingly walking into a trigger with a plan to deal with it. One is blindly facing a trigger and standing alone, the other is wisely using your brain and friends to help reduce the cost of facing a trigger.

For me those are crowded places like bars. Strangers and strange men more specifically still sends panic down my spine. Knowing this and being willing to put everything into action and facing that panic is something I’m afraid I may be working on for some time yet to come.

#10 Don’t be afraid to live

Knowing I will be faced with triggers helps when they come. All the planning in the world can’t stop the triggers but planning ahead and learning how to deflect and cope certainly makes life easier to handle when triggers are activated. Know your own limits and test them in safe moments. But always from a safe place.

~Michelle