Life

Life/blog update — semester recap, school stress, recovery

Hello! I haven’t posted in a few months! The reason why is that I had a really busy semester at school. I was taking 5 academic classes, instead of the 4 I had taken the previous two semesters, and it was a lot. They were also all hard classes; there wasn’t really an easy one I could blow off. All of my classes were for my major, mechanical engineering.

To be honest, it was a really different semester from any I’ve had in college so far. It was a lot busier, but it was often a good busy. I wasn’t as dragged down by my mental health issues! (!!!) !!! My ptsd really has been better since I did the trauma work. I was still anxious, and I had some depressed periods, and my ptsd was still there every now and then, but overall I felt a lot better than I’ve been feeling the past few years.

I was actually able to do the work! I don’t think I would have been able to handle the workload if I’d taken these classes a year ago. In fact, I couldn’t — I dropped a class both semesters to take 4 instead of my original 5. I had more free time for homework this past semester because I was spending less time upset.

I was also less lonely. I spent a lot of my time with my fellow mech e’s (mechanical engineering people) because we had mostly all the same classes. I like seeing people often, not just once a week. I like having people be part of my life and texting me to ask if I’m okay when I don’t show up to class.

It was also stressful — school itself was stressful. I know that school is known for being stressful, and many of my friends have been complaining/venting about this for years, but school had never really been that stressful for me until now. I think it’s because there were always other things stressing me out more than school. My stress about family members dying and whatnot gave me some perspective, and I prioritized other things above school and knew that if I didn’t complete my homework or do well on a test, it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

It was like I had peeled a thick blanket off to reveal a messy heap of broken parts underneath. I had thought that my ptsd (the blanket) was the main problem in my life (and it was a big chunk of my problems), but all my stress about trauma-related things were covering up my other stresses, insecurities, and ineffective ways of coping (the messy heap). With less of the ptsd, I could see the rest more clearly, and it wasn’t pretty.

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peeling back the blanket

It turns out I do get stressed about school. A lot. I care too much about disappointing my teachers and letting people down when they have high expectations for me. I feel pressure to do well. I’m really bad at working in a lab group.

My health isn’t great. Eating is hard and has been hard for a while, which makes my health worse. I don’t know my body very well, and pushing myself too hard in dance has led to some injuries. I missed a couple days of school because I was in too much pain to walk to class.

I’m uncomfortable with lots of things to do with dating and sex. I’ve never dated someone, and I’m not sure how I would. If that makes sense. Like, what the relationship would look like, what stuff I’m comfortable with, which stuff I’m scared of but could get over, who the relationship would be with, etc. It’s just stuff I’ve got to figure out for myself at some point.

I have a lot of social anxiety and often think that people hate me or are trying to kill me.

I’m still really sad about the losses of my grandmother and uncle last January. My family feels really small, like it has suddenly shrunken.

But…. I can do something about all of these things! I can work on these things in therapy! Little by little, it’s going to be okay! Lots of great things happened this semester, too!

I finally got to choreograph a dance in my dance group!!! 🙂 😀 I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. It was wonderful, though stressful at times, and it was really fun to play around with the formations! It looked great on stage, too, and I got a lot of compliments on it!

I have some good friends! I became closer with one friend this semester, and it was amazing. She’s really fun to be around, and we laugh a lot, but she can also be serious, and she’s helped me through some dark moments. She also replies almost right away when I text her! :O For whatever reasons, I’ve never had a friend before that both replied to my texts quickly and whom I wanted to text back quickly. Texting her doesn’t make me anxious.

I took on a leadership role in a sustainability club I’m part of, and it was fun to get more involved and have more responsibility! Plus I’m friends with almost everyone else who has a leadership role, so hanging out with them was fun, and I felt included.

And I do like my classes and my major. It took me a long time and lots of anxiety to decide what to major in, but I’m glad I chose what I did. It seems like a natural (not necessarily easy, but natural) thing for me to do. Mechanical engineering involves a lot of geometry, moving parts, forces on this and that, this goes here so that happens, this affects that, etc. and I think that’s just how my mind works. That’s how I like to think. I like making things. I like figuring out how things work. I like understanding the world around me.

So when it’s hard, at least I know that this really is what I want to do.

Overall, it was probably my best semester of college yet. 🙂 It was the hardest academically, but other aspects of my life were the best they’ve been in a while.

Anyway, I hope to have some more free time (which doesn’t always translate to me doing more with my time, lol…but maybe) over winter break, so I want to get back to writing more! I like writing. It helps me make sense of things. Sometimes when I’m thinking through things in my mind, I imagine what I would say if I was writing it as a blog post, and that seems to help me be more logical. So I already have lots of ideas in my head for what to write. 🙂

I’m also going to try to comment more on people’s blogs! I read some of them in my email, so I have been reading, but now I’ll (hopefully) actually comment, too! 🙂 

I hope you’ve all been well, and I wish everyone the best in the new year!

Affirmations

Affirmation #19 — In this moment, I am safe

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In this moment, I am safe.


Look around yourself. Do you see any immediate threats? If so, please flee, fight, or do what you need to do to stay safe, but otherwise, hey! You’re okay! No one knows what the next moment will bring, but right now, you are safe.


When I’m in a car and start to get scared that we’re going to tip over when we go around a curve or something, I look around and see that in this moment, we are not tipping over. In this moment, we are safe. Then the next moment comes. I look around. We’re still safe. The next moment. We’re still safe. And then my anxiety starts to go down.

Affirmations

Affirmation #18 — I have gotten through this before, and I will get through it again

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I have gotten through this before, and I will get through this again.


Some of the things I struggle with come up again and again. (note: mentions of self harm and suicidal urges) I think that I did something wrong, I feel intense shame, and I want to hurt myself. I haven’t been sleeping or eating enough, haven’t seen my friends in a while, feel like I never get a break from the grind, and nothing is pleasurable anymore. I get my period, and the pain is so bad that I want to die. A trauma reminder comes up, and I feel so scared and overwhelmed.

In times like these, I find it helpful to remind myself that even though it seems overwhelming, awful, and like it will never end, it has ended before. I have gotten through these things before and come out on the other side. In fact, I have coped well in healthy, effective ways! I am capable of managing this.

I have dealt with strong emotions before, and I will deal with these ones, too. I have gotten through the before, and I will get through it again.

Life, Therapy

Challenges and benefits of getting better

(Note: brief, vague mentions of self harm, eating struggles, deaths, and violence) 

I am happy and proud to say that I have been feeling much better recently!

My PTSD has almost disappeared! I have nightmares less than once week now, and their content is much less violent and traumatic. I can’t remember the last time I had a flashback! I’ve had many fewer intrusive thoughts, too.

I think the main reason for these improvements in my PTSD is that I’ve been doing Prolonged Exposure and directly confronting traumatic memories. I’m proud of this because I’ve put in the work and done things that scared me and were hard to do. I may write about this more later, but it really is remarkable to me how much it has helped.

I have so much more free time in my day now. Being upset took up so much of my days! I have more time available for going to class, doing homework, and hanging out with my friends, and sometimes I even have free time left over after that!

I got grades that I am proud of this semester; I took on a leadership position in a club I’m part of; I even tried flirting with someone I had a crush on!

Getting better is a change, and change can be scary

However, there are still struggles in getting better. It’s new and very different from how the past few years of my life have been. Change of any type is hard and scary for me, even when it’s positive change. There are new things to get used to.

Experimenting with the possibility of dating someone was a very stressful experience for me, even though I’m glad I tried and have grown from it and made a new good friend (I told him I liked him; he said he didn’t like me back, but we’re still good friends). There are a lot of situations I’m not used to being in. Applying for jobs? Having interviews that aren’t for therapy programs?!

It’s scary, but I’m growing. 🙂

Higher expectations for myself

As my mental health improved, my expectations for myself shot up. Before, I called a day a success if I went to all my classes and ate some meals, and I’d be proud of that and pat myself on the back because I knew it had been hard to do. When those things got easier and more routine, I felt that I needed to do more. I thought that since I was doing better, I had to take school more seriously and actually get better grades (in part to make up for the lower ones I’d gotten when I was struggling more). My mental health had been holding me back before, and it wasn’t now, so I felt that there was no excuse to not do well, to not do everything, to not be like my peers.

I didn’t see it at the time, but those were unrealistic expectations. There is a lot of room in-between managing to make it to most classes and getting straight A’s; it’s not strictly one or the other. I expected myself to be perfect all of a sudden. I wanted to be able to make up for all the things I’d missed out on over the years all at once.

Wanting these things did make me more motivated, and I plan to achieve many of the things that I realized I wanted — someday. I have to radically accept that I can’t do everything all at once, and I can’t do everything so fast. I need to be patient with myself. While it’s great that I am getting better and seeing improvements, I’m not fully better. It’s a slow process and something that I need to keep working on.

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Not everything gets better

Another thing to radically accept is that there are some things in my life that don’t get better as my mental health gets better. I came home from college recently, and it was a bit of a rude awakening to see my parents arguing just as much as they had been when I left. My improvement hadn’t affected them — of course it wouldn’t, but somehow I just assumed that everything in my life would get better as my mental health improved. That’s not the case.

Therapy also can’t make up for the fact that I have two family members missing in my life. Opposite action can’t bring them back from the dead. I think that I am dealing with the losses better than I was a few months ago (I’m not incapacitated by sadness; I don’t spend most of my days lying on my bedroom floor crying; eating isn’t as much of a struggle), but they are still gone. I am still sad. The grief resurfaces every now and then.

Worries about things worsening

Another challenge is that I worry about my mental health worsening again. Now that I’ve experienced how good things can be, I feel a deeper loss when I’m temporarily feeling worse again. I know all the things I’m missing out on and feel sorry for myself.

When something goes wrong, I also worry that it’s the beginning of the end. Will I go back to being depressed and tormented by nightmares? Good things can’t last forever, right? Is this a temporary blip in my life, or a more lasting change?

If I check the facts on these fears, I can see that the gradual changes I’ve made over the past year have lasted so far. I can see that I have been doing the treatment recommended to me by multiple therapists who believed that it would improve my life, and they agree that I have made lots of progress.

Yes, more bad things are bound to happen in my life, but I do have better skills to deal with them now. I haven’t self-harmed in maybe four months? I “graduated” from DBT group, and I use the healthier coping skills that I learned there every day. I can get through things.

Same friends, new relationships?

When I became friends with the people I’m friends with now, I was struggling, and I was looking (consciously or unconsciously) for certain things in friends — sensitive, a good listener, etc. In addition, many of my friends have their own struggles with mental illness. I’ve also stayed in touch with some people I knew from group therapies.

As a result of these things, many of my interactions with my friends were centered around me venting/asking for support, or me providing emotional support to my friends. I was happy and grateful for that, and it enabled me to have deep, intimate friendships, but I’m not struggling as much anymore. What do we talk about now?? What if we can’t relate as much because we’re not in the same dark place anymore? What if my friend liked me because she felt like she was helping me, and now there’s nothing left to be helped? The dynamics have shifted.

I don’t think that any friendships will end over this, but I may end up more distant from certain people, and that makes me sad. I suppose it’s also possible for friendships to evolve as people evolve, and I hope that mine will, because I really do like my friends.

On the other hand, I am also making new friends. Now humor and playfulness are more attractive qualities to me. I want to laugh for a while with a friend more than I want to express to them how badly I’ve been feeling. There is a time and place for both, but I find myself wanting more fun now than I did before. This is another change that is scary for me at times!

My friends enabled my avoidance

Some of my friends also enabled some bad habits that I want to stop doing now. They let me and even encouraged me to avoid things. Part of my exposure therapy is not avoiding things that aren’t objectively dangerous. I don’t want to avoid things anymore, but the message hasn’t sunk in for my friends yet.

Several people know that I hate blood, decapitation, violence, and related things. When there are scenes in movies with those things, they say, “[My Name], don’t look!” They say, “I don’t think you’ll like this movie, it’s not for you.” When I ask, “What are you laughing at on your phone?” they say, “You don’t want to know, you won’t like it, it’s bad, trust me.”

I very much appreciated these warnings at times when I felt like I needed them, but now I feel like I can handle things. I know that avoidance makes my fears stronger. I don’t want to avoid! I am ready to face scary things!

It’s just frustrating that my old habits were so deeply engrained that they spread to my friends, and now I have to change my friends’ habits, too, not just my own.

Overall

Overall, I’m doing so much better now than I was a few months ago. A couple of weeks before final exams, someone asked me how I was doing, and I said “good”! She said, “haha, like the dog in the fire meme?”

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“This is fine” meme — image from https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1401347-this-is-fine

Meaning, was I saying that things were fine when I was really super stressed out about finals? I wasn’t! I was serious that I was doing well! As I thought back on the conversation afterwards, I realized that I wasn’t just doing well, I was doing the best I had been in the past two years. That seems quite amazing to me.

I wrote this post because I think I had an idea in my head of “getting better” that was all perfect sunshine and butterflies, and I wanted to express the ways in which getting better is still hard. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. 🙂

Affirmations

Affirmation #16 — I am imperfect

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cannot be perfect.

It is impossible.

I cannot do everything.

I cannot prevent everything bad from happening.

I am imperfect.

The world is imperfect.

It sucks sometimes.

It’s the way it is.

I have a life to live,

Not a death to prevent.


 

This affirmation is maybe not as uplifting as some of the others, but it can be freeing. It’s more about radical acceptance of my inability to control everything.

I was in a bad car accident a few years ago, and for a long time afterwards, I fixated on the things I could have done to prevent it and ways to be safer in the future. I was very cautious. I avoided traveling, long car trips, and driving on the highway because I feared they would lead to situations where another accident would happen. I carried safety gear around with me wherever I went. My backpack was big and bulky, but I carried it with me everywhere.

Over time, these things and many more worsened my PTSD because I was avoiding so much and made me depressed because I was limiting my life. I ended up in a partial hospital program, and, with the help of my therapist, realized that some things in my life needed to change.

Some bad things will happen no matter how hard I try to prevent them. It’s sad and awful and makes me feel scared, helpless, and out of control, but it’s true. There are some measures I can take to be safe, of course — always wearing my seatbelt, maybe keeping a resQme tool in the glove compartment of the car but not carrying it with me otherwise, practicing driving on the highway when it’s less busy so that I build up my driving skills over time, etc. — but staying in my safe bubble was making my life miserable. Thus, I have a life to live, not a death to prevent. I can’t do everything, but I will do what I can and live my life.

Affirmations

Affirmation #12 — I can remember AND stay in the present

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I can REMEMBER and stay in the PRESENT.


As part of the prolonged exposure therapy I’ve been doing, I do imaginal exposures, which involve talking through a traumatic memory. I tend to dissociate when talking or thinking about the trauma, so it’s sometimes hard for me to continue thinking about the memory because my mind goes blank with dissociation. However, I need to engage with the memory in order for the memory to make me less scared in the future, so I can’t just block it out. I have to balance not dissociating (by grounding myself in the present moment) and remembering the memory (which brings me a little to the past).

This affirmation is to remind me that it is possible to do this. It is possible to remember without having a flashback or dissociating. I can remember non-traumatic events and still know where I am in the present. With time and hard work in treatment, I am gradually able to do the same with traumatic memories.

Life, Therapy

Finally talking about my trauma in detail

I experienced a traumatic event four years and nine months ago. I decided to do DBT PE (Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Prolonged Exposure) to treat my PTSD eight months ago. And today, I finally talked about the trauma in detail in therapy.

I’ve been building up to this for so long. I’ve gone over the traumatic event in my head so many times in varying levels of flashback-y-ness but always fairly anxious states. This has been a part of my life for so long.

But I had never said it out loud to another human being. I had never said it in order from start to finish. (well, the finish of one part, at least)

This feels like a watershed moment. Something small but fundamental has shifted inside of me, a change that will grow more pronounced as I continue this treatment.

I am still going about my same daily activities and interacting with the same people, but I feel a little different, as if I’m experiencing everything with freer eyes. It feels a little like what getting baptized felt like, or what traveling to another continent for the first time felt like. I knew logically what to expect, but now I’m experiencing it emotionally.

Of course, it was also really hard, and this is also only the beginning. But I finally said it!!!