Life, Positives

I called 911 in my nightmare! :) Improvement and “Success nightmares”

So, as a result of PTSD, I generally have a lot of nightmares. I have had a lot fewer nightmares since I did DBT-PE (dialectical behavior therapy with prolonged exposure) almost two years ago (yay!! success!!), but I still have them sometimes. However, the content is generally better!

A main theme in my trauma was feeling helpless, and this was also a theme in my pre-PE nightmares. It is still a theme in some of my nightmares, but, sometimes I also take action in my dreams and solve the problems in ways I wasn’t able to do during the actual trauma!

This is really exciting for me because it feels like I am finally “over it,” or at least over some parts of it. And my unconscious, which is active at night, is over it, too. It’s not just conscious-me.

Please note: this post contains descriptions of both nightmares and trauma. This includes descriptions of helplessness, calling 911, brain injuries, trees falling, fire, and mask-less people during covid. There are mentions of Christmas, injuries, a car accident, potential death, unconsciousness, broken bones, and surgery.

The first time I had a “success nightmare” like this was about a few months after I finished PE. In the nightmare, I was at home, and there were various things going wrong. I don’t remember all the details at this point, but one of the things going wrong was that there were all these fires. Several patches of trees had caught fire. So, in my dream, I literally flew around putting out fires. I went to each problem and dealt with it. I was able to do it. I left the trees wet and hissing with steam. It was so good. Being able to deal with it took a lot of the fear out of it.

I had another “success nightmare” like this last night, and I wanted to share it. 🙂 I actually first had a different nightmare earlier in the night. In the first nightmare, someone came into my room, my personal, clean-air breathing space, and wasn’t wearing a mask. I was really scared of getting covid and asked them, very politely and maturely (I think I even used a DEARMAN in my sleep, lol!!), to please put a mask on and leave. (it was something along the lines of “I noticed you are not wearing a mask, I am really worried that I will get sick, could you please put a mask on”).

In my dream he did not put a mask on and proceeded to ridicule me for having the gall to ask him to put on his mask! And then, I left my room and went out and about, and everyone that I knew, including my close friends, intentionally took off their masks when they saw me to make fun of me for making a big deal out of nothing and being too sensitive and worried. Ugh. It was awful. It makes me so angry to think about it. But I also felt so helpless because these people were not wearing masks and were just openly breathing on me, and there was nothing I could do to get away from them.


Anyway then I went back to sleep and had this other nightmare that ended on a better note. I think it started out as a good/okay dream (I don’t really remember that part), and then became a nightmare. I was at my home (which, interestingly, is where almost all my nightmares take place, even though a lot of my actual trauma was far from home) and was standing on our long driveway in the forest. Then all the trees started falling down. (and now I am dissociating trying to write this…) They were these big pine trees with two-foot-wide trunks, and the forest was pretty thick, so there were a lot of them, crashing down. Some trees fell into others and caused a domino effect throughout the forest. My sister and I were standing in the forest and couldn’t get away from them. We wouldn’t have been able to run far enough to get out from underneath the path they were falling in because there were trees coming down in all directions.


This fear of a tree falling on me does come from real life (not trauma though). In the past six months, two trees have nearly fallen on me. One was a huge tree in our backyard that just suddenly cracked and tumbled from rot on a blue-sky, wind-free afternoon. Luckily I was far enough away from it, but when I first heard the cracking noise and couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, it was really scary.

The other was our Christmas tree, which was a large tree we cut and brought inside. It was partially decorated, including lights and some glass ornaments. The base wasn’t super secure, and the tree was probably too big for the base, and the whole thing just toppled. If there hadn’t been a ladder in the way to break its fall, it would have fallen on me. Anyway. This fear doesn’t come out of thin air. I think it’s interesting to see how things from my life end up in my dreams.

The fear of people coming into my room without wearing a mask comes from real life, too. I’m living back at college this semester, and apparently someone has to come tomorrow to inspect my fire extinguisher. They have to come into my room, and I don’t know if they’ll be wearing a mask. I have seen so many people not wearing masks, even inside my building. If this person isn’t wearing a mask, or it’s only covering their mouth and not nose, or they’re wearing a mask but it’s not well-sealed, or I don’t have time to put on my own mask before they open the door, what will I do? Will all the air in my room just be potentially infected? (this is real life!) I guess I can leave the windows open for a few hours. But it’s really cold outside. I guess I can deal with that though.


Anywayyy in the tree falling nightmare, my sister and I, and my mom and some other people who were now just magically there, like they are sometimes in dreams, did get hurt by these falling trees. They were falling and rolling and crushing us. People had broken bones, and everyone had a brain injury and was slurring words together and having a hard time thinking and doing things. When the trees had all fallen and things were settled down, I knew that I had to call 911 to take us to a hospital and get help. (and I’m dissociating again..) This part is directly related to trauma. (I am trying to write this (opposite action!) but it’s hard.)

In the dream I knew I needed to call 911, but I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t figure out how to call. I was asking each person individually to please call 911. But they all had brain injuries, too, and couldn’t do it. My mom said she didn’t have 911 in her contacts and didn’t know the number for it. I told her that it’s in the name, it’s literally 9-1-1, but she still didn’t get it. Some people had broken phones. No one could call 911. I eventually realized I had my phone in my back pocket. It somehow wasn’t broken by the chaos. I got it out. I had a really hard time unlocking my phone and using it, due to the brain injury. But I eventually managed to get to the phone app and to type in 9-1-1. An ambulance eventually showed up.

This may not sound like a successful or resolved nightmare because we still got hurt really badly, but to me it was successful because I was able to call for help. In the actual trauma, a severe car accident, we were in the middle of nowhere, and the two phones we had were smashed to tiny bits in the accident. We had no way of calling for help. We were trapped, stuck, helpless, in the middle of nowhere. We, and especially my dad, could have died if we did not get help.

I also have had other nightmares, pre-PE, where my family and I got hurt and we were unable to call 911. For example, one memorable nightmare ended with me and my family sitting and lying on the floor of our house, all hurt in various ways. In the dream I could see the phone, but I couldn’t reach it. I was in too much pain / too broken to move any closer to it, and my arm wasn’t long enough to reach it from where I was sitting. I asked someone else in my family to get it (maybe my mom? I don’t remember), but they said, “<my name>, I can’t.” They were too broken to move, too. We were all so helpless.

So, in contrast to the actual trauma and to past nightmares, this one really was different. It was a success. I was finally able to call 911! It feels so good. Such a relief.


Also, side note, there is a difference between a nightmare and a bad dream. I’ve been using these two terms to mean different things, and apparently my friends and family didn’t know they were different. A bad dream is a normal dream that is unpleasant / has negative emotions in it. A nightmare is a bad dream that wakes you up (source). There are also some other differences between them. For example, trauma nightmares can occur during non-REM sleep (source). I often have nightmares during naps after being asleep for only 5-10 minutes. That wouldn’t happen with a bad dream.

I personally normally wake up from nightmares into panic attacks or flashbacks, which often quickly change into dissociation. It can sometimes take me all day to fully come back to reality. I was talking about bad dreams vs. nightmares with my brother, and apparently his bad dreams never wake him up?! So he has never had a nightmare?! What?! When my PTSD was at its worst, I was having like three nightmares per night! It’s also interesting to note that he was in the same car accident with me and the rest of my family that started most of my trauma. When it comes to emotions, my brother and I are very different people.

Here’s an interesting thing, since I’m talking about this now. There’s a statistic that 20% of people who experience a traumatic event get PTSD (source). In my family, there are 5 people, and only one, me, got PTSD from the car accident that we were all in. That’s 20%! I am that literal one in five! Of course, the accident has affected all of us a lot, but only I actually have ptsd. My mom had a lot of the symptoms of ptsd in the first couple years after, but they were more infrequent than mine and didn’t affect her life the way mine did. It was still very valid distress, just not ptsd.

It’s also important for me to remember that although we were all in the same accident, we didn’t experience the same events, and we didn’t experience them in the same way. My dad, who was hurt the most, was unconscious for several weeks. So, he just doesn’t conveniently have any memories of the whole thing! Also, I broke a bone and had to have surgery, but my brother, mom, and sister didn’t. We were also separated, and I had some experiences the others didn’t have. We also came into the accident with different life experiences. I was already more anxious of a person and had probably had diagnosable social anxiety for years. I was also already a little anxious about health because of other experiences I had had. So, the accident wasn’t the same for all of us. I have to remind myself of all this when I start to feel guilt or shame for being the only one in my family with PTSD. But I didn’t have any say in whether I ended up with ptsd, lol, so since it wasn’t a choice, guilt and shame aren’t justified.


There were so many tangents in this post! 😬


Have you ever had a nightmare or bad dream that you turned around or “solved”?

Life

Where were you when Trump was elected?

(This is my own experience. I understand that many factors contribute to people’s political beliefs and decisions, and I won’t judge you if you vote(d) for or support(ed) Trump, though I disagree. More on that at the end.)

I feel like it was more of an important historical event than I realized at the time in 2016. I’ve been thinking about it recently, and I am getting scared that it will happen again. There were some other stressful things going on in my life at that time, and I am scared that they will happen again, too. Almost like it’s a mini trauma anniversary.

In 2016 I was a senior in high school. I was 18, finally an adult. I was applying to colleges, and it was a very stressful process. The early application / early decision deadline was Nov. 1. My mom wanted me to apply to a certain school. I didn’t want to apply, and hadn’t done enough on my application. It felt like I was boxed in by what my mom wanted me to do. She sometimes wouldn’t let me hang out with my friends or go to sports practice (essential self care things) because I was behind on my applications. It felt like she was controlling my time and life. I made plans to run away from home. I applied to work at a place that would offer me housing as part of the job.

I ended up sticking it out, staying at home. I submitted my application to the school. I submitted it past the midnight deadline, but the website didn’t stop me, so I guess it was allowed. It was a bad application. I ended up getting rejected from that school.

While this was going on, we were having our roof repaired. But it rained before the seal was put on properly. The roof got wet and soggy, and someone’s foot fell through when he stepped on it. There were big gaping holes in the ceiling in my room, and my mattress got wet. I essentially moved out of my room and was sleeping in a different part of our house for a few weeks.

The application deadline was Nov. 1. A few days later was election day. I voted for the first time. It was fun. I got a sticker.

In school, I was taking AP US Government and Politics. We talked about the election in class a lot. On election night, as a “special treat,” our class had an election night party. We got on two busses, one “Trump” bus and one “Hillary” bus. We went somewhere to eat dinner and watch the results roll in on TV. My teacher gave us each a large map of the US, and we colored in the states red or blue as they were decided.

I remember leaving the main room and going out to the hallway. I found two other people. We cried.

I remember going back in, listening to some of my classmates celebrate when Trump won states. Feeling disgusted.

I remember going back out to the hallway, crying in silence. I got out my colored pencils and tried to color something.

It was meant to be a party, a treat, exciting. But it was so upsetting and shocking. It was a weird atmosphere.

Eventually it was time to leave. We left in a rush. My teacher didn’t collect the red and blue markers he had given us, so I grabbed a bunch so that they wouldn’t be thrown out. I still have them.

I got back on the “Hillary” bus. It was quiet and sad. I wondered what was happening on the “Trump” bus. I asked my teacher, who I trust and respect a lot to this day, what this meant. “What’s going to happen now? What will we do?” For the first time, he didn’t know.

I got home; the election wasn’t decided for sure yet, but I went to bed.

I woke up in the morning in this unfamiliar room on an unfamiliar bed and saw my friend’s snapchat story, captioned “Waking up to a different country.”


These are the memories that stick with me. I think I also just don’t like October in general — some bad (medical and family) stuff happened one October. And I don’t like the gory Halloween decorations. And this is when it gets dark outside.

It all combines together into a not-great feeling.

This November, I’m a senior again, now a senior in college. Thinking about graduation and my next steps again. But I’m still living at home (because of online school). Still feeling trapped within these walls with my family. Still fantasizing about running away. I’m still in touch with that friend and that teacher. Trump is still president.

Of course, a lot of other things have changed, too. I’ve been to college, lived in a city, made new friends, decided to major in mechanical engineering. I went to a partial hospital program, started DBT, did Prolonged Exposure to trauma, and got more open with my friends and family about my mental health. I started this blog! I’m more sure of myself. I’m more informed about the news and social justice. I’ve lived through a pandemic. I’ve managed health insurance. I’ve lost my uncle and grandmother, and developed a string of unresolved physical health problems.

These are good ways to remind myself that this is not 2016, even if some things are similar. “That was then, this is now.” Things change for better and for worse in four years.


(If you are eligible to vote in the US and have not voted yet, please vote! Your vote matters, even if you live in a solidly “blue” or “red” state. Check out this video with 10 reasons to vote right now and look at Vote.org to find your polling place, ballot dropbox location, etc. If you’ve already voted, yay! And if you aren’t eligible to vote in the US, hi! What are politics like where you are?)

If you’re undecided on who to vote for in the presidential election or any other election, vote411.org has unbiased information on candidates. You can also check out candidates’ websites (just google their name and the position they’re running for). Their websites should tell you something about their goals, policies, and ideals.

Personally, I voted for Joe Biden for President. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Biden’s website describes what he plans to do in the next four years. Trump’s website does not contain any plans for the next four years. It only lists what he has already accomplished. I think that a President or anyone running for any office should have a plan for what they want to do.
  • I like Biden’s environment and climate policies. Like a lot of millennials, I think that Climate Change is the #1 problem in the world right now. I care about it because it will make every other problem — poverty, famine, drought, injustice, natural disasters, war, even pandemics — worse. Biden has plans (see website) to create lots of new Green Jobs. He cares about Environmental Justice. He wants the US to have a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.
  • Instead of modeling how to be safe during a pandemic by wearing a mask, Trump has encouraged dangerous practices and put people in danger. Trump’s rallies have been Covid “super-spreader” events that have gotten many people sick. This is the opposite of what I want from a president.
  • Biden would give federal money to schools so that they have the resources (like face masks and money to improve ventilation systems) to reopen safely. This would meet the need for safety from Covid, the need for social connection, and the need for money to make it happen.
  • Trump has divided the country, but Biden wants to reunite it. The last question of the final Presidential debate was “What would you say during your inaugural address to people who didn’t vote for you?” Trump answered the question by attacking Biden. Biden said, “I’m an American president. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. I’m going to make sure you’re represented.” I think that Trump would continue to polarize the country, and I think that Biden would help to unify it.
  • I really like Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate and potential Vice President. I watched her in the Vice Presidential debate, and she was confident, firm, and factual. She didn’t talk over Mike Pence. If she can keep a debate calm and not resort to hostility, maybe she can do something to keep the country calm.
  • This is why I voted for Biden for President. There are other reasons, too, but I don’t want to list them all. I am happy to discuss this respectfully in the comments if you want to.

As a break from all this… here’s a nice video/song with pretty scenery. 🙂 I hope you’re doing alright. ❤

Life, Positives

Life goes on, even in a pandemic… Recent accomplishments and updates

Though I’ve been cooped up at home since mid-March, life hasn’t stopped! I’ve made some “accomplishments” posts in the past (Dec 2019, Aug. 2019, Dec 2018, etc) but this one will include some negative things that have happened, too, because they are important life updates. I’ll do the negative ones first so that it’ll end on a happy note.

  • I’m doing school online from home this fall, and I’m pretty sad about that. I miss my friends, and I miss seeing them in person. I feel lonely. Zoom and FaceTime don’t always cut it.
  • I’ve had some bad experiences with my health that were kinda re-traumatizing. My mental health has gotten worse as a result, and I have new symptoms. (but things are getting better at the moment!) I’ve also discovered the term “medical trauma,” meaning trauma as a result of medical things like surgery or being in the hospital. This explains why I’m still struggling with the things that happened in the hospital after I was in a bad car accident 6 years ago, even though I’ve talked about the accident itself extensively in therapy (through Prolonged Exposure). Here are some resources I found on medical trauma: info, good article, story. If you know of any others, I’d love to see them.
  • I was supposed to kinda be doing an internship this summer, and I…kinda didn’t… 😦 I’m not totally sure how it happened. I guess I was busy dealing with my health. That took up a lot of time and energy. And I felt a lot of shame for not knowing things, so I didn’t ask for help, so I was stuck and procrastinating hard. I feel very ashamed of how I acted and the fact that I just didn’t do the work. I had an opportunity and I blew it. I also feel guilty, angry at myself, and sad.
  • I’m not going to try to list all the bad things because that doesn’t feel like a useful thing to do. These are the main ones, I think. Now, on to the positives! 🙂

I have gotten better at talking. For a while I was feeling insecure about how I talk, and I was having trouble communicating what I meant in a clear way. I felt like my main experience having real conversations (not small talk) was in therapy places. I think I’m fairly good at using “I” statements and validating people, but I don’t have as much experience talking in academic or professional settings, and I want to get better at this. The past few months, I’ve been part of a book club with my friends where we also talk about politics, the news, and controversial/sensitive topics. I feel like I can have a real conversation now, even about tricky topics. I can acknowledge when I don’t know enough about something. I can say why I think something and how I came to that conclusion. I can participate in a group discussion without needing to be called on, and without interrupting, or on the flip side, staying silent. I can disagree with people without it becoming an argument. My family did not teach me how to do this; if people disagree in my family, it’s always an argument. I am proud of the progress I have made with this, and I feel better about my abilities.

I’ve also gotten better at sending emails. I started sending the weekly email for my sustainability club when there was no one else to send it, and I’ve gotten so much better at it. It also doesn’t stress me out anymore at all. It’s just something that needs to be done. Sometimes I even look forward to it, and I write it ahead of time and use the schedule-send feature.

I’ve gotten better at singing. I was so insecure about my singing for so long. My brother is a “good singer” and has been in a cappella and chorus groups in school. He generally criticizes me when I sing for being off-key. But it turns out that, like many things, singing is a skill that I can improve at if I practice. So, I need to sing “badly” for a bit in order to get the experience I need to improve. Also, people don’t magically know how to sing songs just after listening to them (at least not most people, I’m guessing). People practice hitting the notes and transitioning between the notes for a long time before they’re able to sing it like it sounds in the song. I just needed some practice. My sister and I are putting on a musical we’ve created from a combination of two other musicals, and I’ve gotten a lot of practice singing for that. Singing is really fun, and I’m really glad I get to be in a musical. 🙂

I have also been in two Zoom musicals! One thing I wanted to do in college was be in a musical again, since I was in a musical my senior year of high school and loved it. With school online, I thought I wouldn’t get to fulfill that dream, but I’ve had the opportunity to be in these two musicals with a new club that formed when schools went online. It’s pretty cool!

My relationship with my brother is improving. We are closer now. We get along, joke around, and sometimes have meaningful conversations!

I took a summer class and gained a new perspective on animals and their behavior.

I’m reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and it’s amazing, and has similarly changed my perspective on trees. Forests create clouds and are the main reason why rain can fall inland, far from bodies of water! Pine groves make the air around them germ-free! Trees can care for their young and help out sick trees by sending sugar through their roots! Trees can warn each other about attacks from pests! I highly recommend this book. It’s so cool.

As a result of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve learned a lot more about racism today and in the past, anti-racism, police and criminal justice, housing inequalities, etc. I’ve also thought a lot about my own privileges and gotten better at accepting them. I read Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime (I read the version adapted for young readers), and it was really useful for understanding apartheid in South Africa and making comparisons to the US. It’s all told through stories, which made it easy for me to read. There are some descriptions of violence, injury, abuse, and of course lots of injustice, so be aware if you read it.

And yes, I am reading again! I haven’t read much in recent years because of eye problems, concentration problems, and because I’m often triggered by what I read. But I feel like I can read again! Wow! 🙂 Reading the short stories with my friends has been good and helpful, too.

I got accepted to grad school?!? My school has a program where current students can apply to the masters program at the school. It’s an easier method of applying and getting in (basically everyone who meets a certain GPA cut-off gets in), so I feel like I got in “through the back door,” which makes me feel invalid, but it’s still real and great that I’m accepted! Before, I wasn’t planning on going to grad school, but because they lowered the GPA cut-off (so that I made the new cut-off) because of the pandemic, and because it may be hard to get a job after graduation with the current economy/unemployment rate/job market, it’s looking like I probably will go to grad school. So this is a change in my life plans, but it’s not a bad change. I’m also more interested in using mechanical engineering (my major) for bio-medical things… the pandemic has shown me that there is a need for mechanical engineers to design medical devices. So now I’m imagining different careers for myself. These aren’t bad changes, but they are major changes to what I imagine the next few years of my life will look like.

I had a trauma anniversary that wasn’t awful for the first time! 🙂

I am developing a better understanding of my body. (note: this paragraph includes talk of bodily functions) I had severe abdominal pain earlier this summer (severe enough that I couldn’t stand for more than 10 seconds because it was so painful). After a stressful and frustrating process of getting seen by a doctor and getting things figured out, I had a CT scan, which showed a large ovarian cyst. It was surprising to me that there was actually something physically, visibly wrong inside of me. In the past, doctors have dismissed various pains as a result of my ~anxiety~. But this time, there was actually a clear explanation why I felt pain. It hurt when I peed because there was a physical mass pushing against my bladder. The idea that pain is caused by something being wrong in my body is new to me, and very validating. The CT scan also showed that I had several benign renal (kidney) cysts. Is that what’s hurting randomly in that part of my body?? Are there actual explanations for the things I’m feeling?? I’ve also looked at some diagrams of internal organs. In the past, I avoided looking at things like that because it upset and triggered me. But I’m okay with it now. I am learning where different organs are. My intestines are really long and snake all over! When I feel my intestine-area gurgling and moving around, it is actually moving things through my intestine! My pain happens for a reason. There are specific, physical things going on in my body that cause the pain.

I reconnected with a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in a year. It feels really good to have that relationship back. 🙂

I can still improve on things and make progress on things that are important to me, even though I’m at home almost all the time. My daily life looks different, but I’m still doing stuff and working towards my long-term goals. I can still have fulfilling experiences, new experiences, and happy times. 🙂

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.

IMG_2886
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!

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!!!

Life, Therapy

What trauma feels like (for me, for now)

(This is about trauma and talks about death, with mentions of self harm and suicidality.)

I’ve had lots of upsetting things happen recently — my mom lost all the hearing in one of her ears suddenly, my uncle was dying and then died, my grandmother was in the hospital and then died — those are the main ones, but my great uncle also died, my aunt’s neighbor died, my family has been very chaotic… taken all together, within a month, it’s traumatic.

I’m used to PTSD and the anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks as a result of that. But with PTSD, it’s post-trauma. I can use opposite action to face fears because I know (at least, rationally) that I am safe now. I can ground myself in the moment with phrases like “this reminds me of something scary, and, in this moment, I am safe.” I can point out the ways that this situation is different from the traumatic one.

Now it’s different. I’m not living in PTSD anymore; I’m living in trauma. It is happening now.

Trauma is something that overwhelms your ability to cope, something that threatens your life or that of someone you love. These events have definitely overwhelmed me: I feel like everything is “too much” very often; I’ve developed new self harm behaviors; I fantasize about dying to escape it all; accomplishing little things, or even getting out of bed and getting meals, are hard. And the lives of people I know and love were threatened and taken.

I know that my subconscious agrees that I’m overwhelmed because my PTSD (from a car accident) has disappeared. I’ve heard that having flashbacks means that your body and brain are ready to process through the trauma that you couldn’t process at the time. Well, clearly my body isn’t well enough to process old trauma anymore. I’ve had one night of traumatic nightmares and intrusive thoughts relating to the accident in the past few weeks. Just one! I suppose I should thank my body for this, for not giving me even more distress that I’m not capable of handling.

On the other hand, I have had nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and lots of strong anxiety, sadness, and other emotions about the current issues.

And when I have startle reactions, like when the phone rings, or someone knocks on my door, or I hear indistinct raised voices, or my mom texts me, those reactions are actually the response that is needed in that situation. It’s not a post-trauma startle reaction. It’s not out of place. It’s serving an essential purpose. It’s getting me awake from my slumber so that I can drive my mom to the hospital. It’s preparing myself for the news that my grandmother died.

This trauma is happening now. It’s awful. Here are some other things I’m experiencing that help show what this trauma feels like.

  • Constantly high anxiety
  • Checking the facts and finding that the intense emotion is justified: people are in danger.
  • Screaming when startled
  • Splitting headache
  • Not knowing what will happen
  • Feeling like my world is collapsing around me
  • Trying to maintain any sense of constancy in my life
  • Things so chaotic that I don’t know when I’ll next eat
  • Expecting my life to be turned upside down and inside out multiple times in the near future
  • Having to always be ready to drop everything for my family at a moment’s notice
  • Waking up to my mom calling me saying she’s in the emergency room
  • And not being fazed by it because it’s become so commonplace — constant danger is the norm
  • Dissociating so much that I can’t read more than a couple of sentences
  • Dissociating the moment I consciously try to stop avoiding emotions
  • Dissociating in order to survive — because if I don’t, my emotions are unbearable, and I get very suicidal, or can’t eat, or can’t get out of bed — so, dissociating is keeping me alive
  • Needing to use my crisis survival skills toolkit many times every day
  • Almost always wanting to die
  • Crying when I didn’t call my mom because I think that if I don’t call her, someone will die — and then having my grandmother die the next day and confirming my worry
  • Not knowing where I am
  • Not being able to participate in a normal, casual conversation because everything reminds me of the awful things going on, and I don’t want to talk about them
  • All of my thoughts leading back to the trauma
  • Saying “HELP” inside my head or writing it on paper or my skin frequently
  • Wanting very badly to be able to escape and not being able to

img_8902
my life is full of holes

Life, Therapy

My relationship with death

(In case it isn’t obvious already, this is about death, and it’s dark.)

We’re in a close relationship, death and I, but it’s a rocky one.

I saw you, death, for the first time when I was in 5th grade. I had heard about you before. I had heard what you had done to my grandpa, to my friend’s dog, to many others. But I hadn’t been present to see you in the same room.

In 5th grade, I saw you come and take my grandmother away. I saw her heart rate fall, fall, fall, until it got to levels at which she was surely unconscious, and we took the monitor off her finger.

I understood that it was her time. I loved her, but it was a peaceful way to go.

Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, you noticed me. Before, we were just strangers in the same room. Now you introduced yourself to me. You showed me my life. I saw it flash before my eyes. It was a good life, one I was proud of. You told me it was enough. You told me to come with you. You showed me peace and beauty, the calm in the eye of the storm. You took my breath away. I said okay. I didn’t have a choice, but I said okay anyway.

But you decided not to take me then. I don’t know why. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was God, if he exists, thinking I deserved to live longer, that there was some plan for me. Maybe it was physics, just the way things moved in that moment, and my luck of being where I was. Maybe it was that I was wearing a seatbelt. Maybe it was that I wasn’t too tall. I’ll never know why.

You turned away from me and looked at my dad. He was too tall for the car. The physics did not work in his favor. I saw and heard horrible things. For maybe five minutes, I thought you had taken him. I imagined the rest of my life without him. I regretted not loving him more. I hated you, death. You caused pain, misery, and sadness.

And yet you didn’t take him away from me, either. It was an amazing gift, one that I struggle to be thankful for today, but it really was.

Time passed. You stayed in my mind. The image of peace stayed in my mind. The horrors stayed in my mind. For better or worse, you and I were linked together.

Later, when things were too much to bear, you knocked on my door. I invited you in. At some point, we must have started dating. I thought about you often. I fantasized about you, “Death + Me” written in a heart. I wanted to be with you, but at the same time you repulsed me. I hadn’t forgotten the accident. I hadn’t forgiven you for that. But the peace was so tempting.

I kept our relationship hidden. I didn’t tell friends, family, teachers, even my therapist, what you meant to me.

We’d break up. I’d swear we were never getting back together. I’d write lists of why I wanted to stay living. I’d plan things to look forward to. I’d make checklists to follow during the times when you tempted me, so that I wouldn’t give in.

I’d go without seeing you for a while. I would try to forget. But somehow you still called to me, especially in my dark moments, especially in flashbacks, especially when I was alone.

At some point I started becoming more open about our relationship. I wrote about it in my journal. I alluded to it with my friends. I confessed to my therapist when she asked me point blank. A few months later, my therapist and I told my parents about my relationship with you. They didn’t really understand. But they loved me and wanted to support me. They wanted to help me move beyond you. At the time, I wanted to be done with you, too.

You were my guilty pleasure, death, a secret kept hidden, but also a monster haunting me. You keep proposing. You keep wanting to run away together and get married. I keep saying no. But I’ve gotten so close to saying yes.

You always ask in my weakest moments. When I’m feeling better, I hate how close I came to giving in to you.

Death, I know you will take me eventually. Subconsciously, I expect that it will be soon, but I think that’s just because the horrors you left me with make me expect to die. You’ve never left me completely. You still feel close.

In the times I’m feeling well, I don’t want to be with you. You offer peace, but it’s mixed with pain for others. You offer peace, but it’s too soon. I have plans. I have dreams. I have relationships besides the one with you. I can find peace in ways other than what you offer.

I wish I could break up with you permanently. I wish that when you finally do come, it will be many, many years from now, after a full, satisfying, joyful, loving life. I hope when you do come, I’ll be sad to leave.

For now, I am working on healing from my relationship with you.

Therapy

Memories of being in the hospital

This morning in bed I read through a blog about being in a mental hospital. It reminded me somewhat of being in the day treatment program at the mental hospital this summer, but it actually reminded me more of a traumatic time in a hospital, being treated for physical reasons…

I am aware that writing about this could trigger me and give me flashbacks or dissociation, and I’m also aware that I haven’t been this open on this blog before, or in person, for that matter… I normally avoid talking about trauma things, even in therapy. Although that will hopefully change soon. But I think these thoughts all the time, and I want to put them in the world, and I’m finally feeling like maybe I’m able to do that without getting super triggered…

(And also, be aware of yourself while reading this and mindful of if it’s the best thing for you at the moment. It’s not very graphic, but it is about injuries, hospitals, being away from home, doctors, a dangerous city, etc.)

Okay, so I’m going to try to write this, and I will do it mindfully and stop and take a break when I notice myself getting worse, and I will do grounding skills. 🙂

Okay, here goes!!

So, it reminded me of being in the hospital and getting kicked out before I was ready to leave. I was in a bad state… with a broken bone knocked two inches out of place (i.e. no chance of it healing properly on its own), with a concussion that doctors refused to acknowledge or treat, barely able to walk…

In a country where I didn’t speak the language, in a part of town where you could get shot if you walked around right outside the hospital – my family members were staying at a bed and breakfast two blocks away from the hospital, and people advised us to take a taxi there because it was too dangerous to walk.

As I write this, I notice that I am getting a bit of a headache, feeling nauseous, and my thinking is getting a bit foggy. I’m gonna take a quick break…

I’m back! I ran up and down the hall and jumped around. I also got some more water to drink. It is TWENTY EIGHTEEN, I am at home, I am in college, I am on fall break, I am studying engineering, I have new friends, my watch is blue, I am thinking about a distressing memory, but it is not happening now. Memories are painful but not the present reality. It is safe to write about. Whew. Deep breath. Okay.

Yeah. So I did not feel ready to leave the hospital. I also didn’t have my belongings. I was in a foreign country. I was a bajillion miles from home. For a good amount of time, I didn’t have shoes, and had to walk around the hospital barefoot until I pleaded enough that someone gave me giant navy crocs.

One day, they had me move to a new bed in a different wing of the hospital because someone needed the bed I was in. This happened suddenly, in the middle of the day. My family was not around, and I had no way of contacting them. I owned a cell phone at the time, but it was at home across the ocean. I hadn’t brought it on the trip because I didn’t use it much at the time (I was kinda young), and I knew it wouldn’t work anyway because I didn’t have an international data plan. But anyway, I had no way of telling my family where I was. I thought they would just show up to my old room, looking for me, and not know where I had gone or have any way of knowing. I ended up telling a relative of someone I shared the room with exactly where I was going. I think that helped. I don’t actually remember how it turned out, but my mom definitely found me eventually.

I know that this is kinda disjointed. Apparently that is how trauma memories are: not in order, random snippets. These aren’t even the super traumatic parts. Sighhhhh

There’s a lot more I could write about being in the hospital, but I think this is enough for now, so I’ll say one more thing to end on a good note.

In the room I was in, there was an older woman being treated for some sort of heart problem. Her family was with her. Her granddaughter was in her 20s and studying to be a doctor, I think. The granddaughter was really sweet. When I was super nauseous, she went to the drugstore in the hospital and bought me cinnamon gum to chew. Apparently chewing gum and experiencing strong smells or tastes helps with nausea. I didn’t actually chew the gum at the time, but I have chewed gum more recently to help with nausea.

One time, she took me on a walk. She let me lean on her arm for support (because I wasn’t walking well and was also very dizzy and nauseous). We walked through this peaceful spiritual garden thing in the hospital. It was only about 20 minutes, but it was my first time walking since I’d gotten to the hospital, and my first time away from my bed in a while. It was so nice. I felt so taken care of. She was so kind to me.

Coping Skills, Therapy, trauma

Using a safety behavior is like cheating on a test

I had an interesting dream last night that made me realize some things.

In the dream, my little sister was caught cheating on a test. Before taking the test, she had to fill out a form with her name, education level, employment, etc. (remember this was a dream, so it was a little weird). She made up a person, Avery Perkins, MD–an older, more educated woman–in order to seem smarter and get a better grade.

She took the test under this persona and got a B+. She had been hoping for an A+, but it was still better than the B- she got last time.

Now, her teacher had looked up this Dr. Avery Perkins my sister claimed to be and found that no doctor existed with that name. She knew that my sister had made up a fake person.

The teacher (who reminded me of my therapist) came over to my sister and told her that Dr. Avery Perkins doesn’t exist. She told my sister she was cheating. She looked at my sister with a serious, sad expression, and asked, “Do you understand why we don’t want you doing this?”

My sister said no, and the teacher continued, “If you cheat on a test or impersonate someone else and get a good grade, you assume that the good grade came because you cheated. You think that in order to get a good grade, you must pretend you are someone else. Getting a good grade when you cheat positively reinforces cheating. So you cheat more.

“The problem with this is that you never learn what happens when you don’t cheat. You don’t learn that you would have gotten the same grade if you had written your own name on the test. You don’t learn that you can take a test and be successful without anyone’s help. You don’t learn that you can do it.

“Cheating is a safety behavior. You use it as a crutch to get through the test. You rely on it. What are you avoiding? What are you afraid of?”

My sister said she didn’t know.

The teacher offered, “Are you afraid of failing? Are you afraid of disappointing your parents? Are you afraid of not being as good as you thought you were?”

My sister again said she didn’t know.

The teacher said, in a manner much like my therapist, “Well, I don’t have all day. I have other students to take care of. I want you to think about this and what cheating is doing for you.

“You’ll only learn that you can do it without cheating when you try it and see what happens. Maybe some things you thought would happen aren’t very likely to happen, or, when other things do happen, they’re not as bad as you thought.”

And she walked away and left me with my sister.

I like this dream because, as good dreams do, my subconscious uses metaphors to explain things to my consciousness. If I only try to face scary situations as Dr. Avery Perkins, using my safety behaviors, how will I ever know that I can face them?

My therapist has been talking to me a lot about exposure to the things I am afraid of and avoid. I’ve been noticing what my safety behaviors are when I do things that scare me.

A safety behavior is something that distances you from something you think would be too scary to face without it. Safety behaviors include avoiding something entirely (e.g. not going to a party out of fear of judgement), escaping from it when you’re confronted with it (e.g. leaving a party early), and avoiding in subtler ways (e.g. attending the party but not talking to anyone because you’re on your phone all the time).

I have a lot of safety behaviors. I carry around survival gear with me. I use google maps even when I know where I’m going. When I’m in the car, I physically brace myself for impact. I announce, “bump,” out loud before we drive over a bump. (I was in a bad car accident.) These are just a few. More obvious behaviors are that I never learned to drive on the highway, and I avoid going on trips with my family (I try to say no or get out of them).

I’ve been trying out mini exposures recently. I wiped up some blood (which was a big deal for me!), but I noticed that when I did it, I was sure to have lots of napkin in between me and the blood, and I washed my hands right away. So, to continue the exposure, next time I would try to do it without those safety behaviors.

I also told a couple friends that I was in a bad car accident, something I definitely avoid talking about. My safety behavior in that situation was that I laughed through the whole thing. I couldn’t keep a straight face, even though I was talking about something serious. I wasn’t fully experiencing the emotions that talking about it brought up. I was also very jumpy and tried to end the conversation as soon as I started it. I’m not sure how much control I have over the laughter, but maybe next time I’ll be more serious.

I’ve also been doing exposures to vulnerability with my parents. I try to share something vulnerable that I would normally avoid, like how I’m really doing. My biggest safety behavior there is avoiding eye contact at all costs. I also avoid eye contact when I’m telling my therapist something I’m uncomfortable with, and she has to remind me, “I’m over here, look over here at me,” and “If you don’t see my face, you won’t know that I’m not judging you or thinking you’re weird.”

My dream made me realize more deeply what I already knew logically, that I have to try the things I’m scared of without my safety behaviors, just as I am and no one else, in order to learn that they are safe and I can do it on my own.