Off the mat.

“People with PTSD don’t do well when things are really busy,” said a counsellor to me, perhaps a year ago. And, inconveniently, we’re coming up to the pointy end of the year (music to learn, anyone?), and if last week was too busy to write, it’s nothing compared to how busy the rest of November and December will be. For the moment, and before I go on holiday next week, I’m battening down the hatches in the calm before the storm.

People with PTSD don’t do well with over-stimulation – I am aware of that, and while I’m confident that this year’s pre-Christmas demands will be less heavy and traumatic than last year’s (healing is a great blessing), I’m also aware of the fact that I am feeling under the pump, and I am starting to have difficulties sleeping again, and I am finding that more nights than not at the moment I’m visited by nightmares, which linger into the feeling of the day. All early warning signs that I might not be coping as well as I could; all something to watch out for; all indicators that I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself.

The other thing I’m aware of, though, is how long it’s been since this time last year, and how far I’ve come. Singing is sometimes still fraught, and my last panic attack was only a month ago, and it was a doozy. But even in that, I no longer wake up wondering if I’ll get through the day, and it’s been a long time since I’ve regretted waking up at all.

I’ll always carry the damage that’s been done, and I’ll always live with the consequences of ten years of domestic violence. Possibly, I’ll have to manage PTSD for the rest of my life, to greater or lesser extents. There are some things on which I will never be able to retain a sense of equanimity and probably some scars will always hurt.

But there’s been healing, and I’m stronger than I was a year ago, and I can stand and look people in the face without cringing, and most of the time I manage my symptoms without really having to think about it, and I have a sense of future as strong as my sense of past, and I feel like I’ve got out from under this. I took the hit, and I fell heavily, but I’m up off the mat.

It’s an incredible feeling.


So much for back into routine.

So I had planned to get back into routine; I was enjoying the sense of being back in routine, with all that entails – and then I got sick. Spectacularly, painfully, too-miserable-even-to-rue-not-being-able-to-sing, messily sick. I don’t like being sick and I don’t do it well. Plus, it’s bad for my to-do list.

And here’s the thing about being sick: it can’t matter. It can’t matter that we were singing a piece of music I really love, and I was stuck at home in bed, watching a fever shimmering in the air around me. It can’t matter that I’d planned to spend my day off going through my poetry notebook, getting back into routine on that too. It can’t matter that I needed to clear my desk, and that the dust bunnies on the kitchen floor were getting close to developing their own consciousness, and that there’s a half-written letter to a friend sitting on my kitchen table, and that I want to get back into the routine of going to the gym, and that there’s no food in the fridge other than carrots and a venerable bok choi. It can’t matter that I see myself as an active person – sometimes physically, always mentally – who doesn’t naturally sit around doing, and thinking, nothing. Nothing at all can matter, except that I shut my eyes, let the cat snuggle me, and sleep.

I’m generally not good at listening to my body. I can be hungry, or chilly, or nursing tension or even pain, without really noticing. So I guess sometimes messages from my body have to be pretty blatant. Yes, I get it: time to slow down.

I said at the beginning of the year that this year would be my year of care. I would care for the world around me. I would care for myself, physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively and spiritually. And then life got in the way.

My resolution to do a better job at caring for myself will last precisely until the next busy period – I know myself well enough to know that. But I have three-ish months left of my year of care, and maybe next year can be Year of Care Mark II.

I might have better success second time round.

Good enough.

We’ve done recruitment this week at work and I’ve spent a lot of time reading CVs, shortlisting, doing phone screening and then conducting interviews all day yesterday. Today was reference checks and ensuring that all my notes on the process are comprehensive, as well as catching up on all those normal tasks which I’ve neglected throughout this whole process. I’m tired and I’m struggling to think of anything remotely intelligent or worthwhile to write, but I feel guilty if I don’t write a blog on a blogging day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday have become non-blogging days; every other day carries an expectation, in my own mind at least, that I’ll write at least something on here).

Again, though, I keep being drawn back to my year of care – for those of you who don’t know, I’ve decided that 2014 is a year in which I will prioritise self-care, in all its forms. By and large, I’m doing a crappy job – I’m generally too busy to bother with much beyond the basics of self-care beyond the physical, and I often need a reminder to stop and reflect on my life, and why I make the choices I do.

So in this year of care, and after a week like this one (which isn’t quite over yet), and with someone who means the world to me lying in a hospital bed and a little bit of my consciousness and a lot of my love hovering over her, I’ve decided that part of self-care is not being hard on myself, and part of not being hard on myself is letting something be, not perfect, but good enough. Adequate. A reasonable attempt.

Like this blog post. A pretty uninspiring, utterly boring blog post (unless you want to know the specifics of the recruitment process – then, I guess, it’s slightly interesting) – but for tonight, it’s good enough.

Sometimes, good enough will do.

The bleak is back…

…and I’m tired.

I don’t know why it’s been hard these last few weeks – I still don’t know what triggered it, why there’s such fragility in my capacity to cope with the things life throws at me, with the vicissitudes (I do love that word) of living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Right now, writing is hard. I’m still putting a star on my calendar for each day that I do some writing: one star for writing my three daily Haiku, one star for journalling, and one star for any other sort of writing – poetry or prose. But right at the moment, there are fewer stars on my calendar.

And I’ve decided that’s ok. It will get better, and I’ll get some sleep and this week will end and I’ll enjoy singing on Friday and Sunday, and each time the bleak comes back it will last for a shorter time, and it will be a little easier to deal with. And there’ll still be some stars on my calendar, and I’ll get through this. And if I have to eat my own body weight in chocolate to do that, then that’s what I’ll do.

And I might get to use the word “vicissitude” again.

Bleakness and a well-snuggled cat.

It’s being a bit of a bleak week. It’s funny – I was feeling stronger, more confident, better about the world and my place in it. Singing was getting easier: my hands weren’t shaking, and the panic attacks seemed to be a thing of the past. I was getting through whole rehearsals and services without the screaming interruption of memories and feelings and fears and that ever-present anxiety. I was feeling ok.

Until, suddenly, I wasn’t. Maybe there was one trigger, too small for me to notice. Maybe there were a number. Maybe it was some unacknowledged anniversary, perceived only in that powerful space below consciousness; maybe it was simply simply the vicissitudes of the chemicals in my brain, or life with post-traumatic stress disorder. Or any or all of the above – who knows.

The upshot though was a panic attack during my rehearsal on Friday night – the first time since Easter Day I’ve had to bail while I was singing (the intervals between panic attacks are getting less frequent – I have to hold onto this), and now the upshot is that I’m feeling shit. Bleak, and lethargic; completely apathetic, wanting only to sleep or tranquilise my mind with banality.

So I have been. As an experiment, I’m treating myself as though I’m recovering from a physical, rather than a mental, manifestation of unwell-ness. I haven’t been to the gym; I’ve read Harry Potter rather than the book on neurology and spirituality (borrowed from a friend and saved as a treat) which is currently sitting on my dining table; I’ve cuddled with the cat rather than doing those jobs I really actually need to do. For the last few days, I haven’t really been a singer – no practise, no preparation, and I’ve struggled to remain connected to what I’ve been singing. I haven’t really been a writer – I’ve barely put pen to paper and there have been a few days where I haven’t even done my self-imposed minimum word count. I’ve spent time with friends, but I’ve been on the outskirts of conversation, grateful to have friends who understand and who allow me to tune out when things get too much. They know I’m not ok, but they’re not pressing me – I’m just getting more hugs than usual.

And maybe that’s ok. This will pass, and I’ll still be a chorister, and I’ll still be a writer, and I’ll still have friends. I’ll still have a floor that needs hoovering, and I’ll still have a job to show up for, and the neurology book will wait. I’ll still be the person I always have been – I’ll just have been in a slight hiatus.

But the cat will be happy.

Lunchbreaks and that pesky year of care.

I went back to work today, the first day after almost two weeks off. It was the normal, post-holiday shock to the system – and, as is usual in my job, my first forty or so minutes were the busiest of my day as I reacted to every small crisis and unfilled shift and conflicting client appointment, and each question that needed an answer right now!, and just got on with the chaotic business of the beginning of a day in a mental health NGO. Forty minutes into the day, coffee finally in hand, I felt like I’d been back at work for hours and hours.

Which is fine – I love my job, I love the flexibility and reflexivity it demands, and I love that a big part of my job is just making shit work – the agency rolls smoothly along (not that you’d know it from the craziness of the first part of most of my days), and a small but not unimportant part of that is the macro-administrative stuff – for want of a more descrptive term – that I do every day. It’s a nice feeling, and it suits a details-oriented left-brained control-freak like me from head to tail. But it’s tiring, and it’s demanding, and sometimes it’s in my face all the freaking time, and for an introvert I seem to do a hell of a lot of interacting with other people. Coming from two weeks of gratefully-received solitude (some days, the only person I talked to was the individual selling me food or coffee), it was a bit of a shock to come back to. There’s only so many words an introvert can say in any given week without going into word-defecit…

Being back at work is good, but it made me realise something: I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s job (which is fine) – and I need to take care of myself in that. Which I haven’t been doing. Eating lunch at my desk with the intention of taking my lunch break at an unspecified “later” time to say the rosary in a nearby park – it’s a great idea, but if when half-four arrives and I haven’t left the buliding, all I’ve achieved is lunch at my desk.

All of which is not to laud myself for being a hard worker – if I’m honest, there are reasons behind choosing to keep my brain constantly occupied rather than letting myself sit quietly in whatever reality surrounds me in that experience. But it’s not helping. And I haven’t forgotten (except that sometimes I do) that this is supposed to be my year of care.

So, she says…how’s that working out for you?

Something’s gotta give…

…and, this week, the thing that’s got to give is this blog.

It’s busy: Holy Week, singing, eating, sleeping, and the demands of work, which I have to do so I get paid so I can do all the other things. And there’s only so many hours in the day, and so many brain cells in my head, and part of this whole year-of-care thing (I haven’t forgotten that) is knowing my limitations and respecting them. Knowing when to say no. Knowing when to care for myself, to sit on the lounge and watch Firefly (I love, love Jos Whedon) and have an early night.

Because in order to be present – truly present – to the life-and-death mysteries we’re about to celebrate this week, there have to be times when I’m not present to my responsibilities. When I sit on the lounge and watch Firefly, and have an early night.

Because there’s miles to go before I sleep, and in order to get there I need to be taking care of myself. And not feel guilty. And watch Firefly, and have an early night.