The Effects of Self-Imposed Stress

Note: this blog was written right before my awareness there was a  pandemic looming in February 2020. At the time I felt it was insensitive to write about my ‘self-imposed’ stress. Now, sixteen months later, I resurrected it from my drafts.

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Last week I suffered the effects of self-imposed stress. Just thinking about it sends chills down my spine.

Some part of me knew I’d let my activities and choices get out of hand. However, it was more obvious to my husband and mother, who live with me. During the previous month, I had whittled away the major contributor, giving away my time and energy to aid causes more than myself. Yes, I resigned my last job as a volunteer. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t.

Stress Manifests in My Life

First, I noticed a small headache, off and on for a few days. Then exhaustion hit me about midday on day one, Friday. Although unusual for me, I took a nap, a two hour nap. Meanwhile, my plan to cook an elaborate dinner with the chops I’d purchased, evaporated. I found some hot dogs in the back of the meat drawer. It sounded appetizing with the leftover, homemade macaroni and cheese. After serving up the Cleveland Red Beet Kraut, I found a spurt of energy, looking at the colorful shades of red and yellow food choices.

I went to bed early and slept over seven hours, meeting my Fitbit sleep goal. Yeah!

Day Two Starts a Little Better

My usual routine in the morning included a breakfast of carefully measured oatmeal, chopped apple, crystallized ginger, and a boiled egg for added protein. I logged it, just as I’ve done for the last three months.

Essential items were getting low; milk, half and half, peanut butter, bananas, and I needed apples for the Waldorf salad I planned to make. As I finally left for town it was close to lunchtime. I opted for the cafe in Bok Tower Gardens and one of my favorite wraps, Buffalo Chicken. Afterward I went for a fifteen minute stroll.

I was feeling unusually tired from my little walk, but there were still groceries to buy. Arriving home, I carried the groceries and headed for the stairs to the kitchen. My legs seemed so heavy. I took each step slowly, first the left foot, then the right, resting the grocery bags on the steps above.

As soon as I put the milk away, I fell into bed, noticing I had two hours before a group coaching call with Connie Chapman. Just twenty minutes before the call, I awoke and hurried to my downstairs office.  As usual, my Internet was too weak for Zoom in my office, too far from the signal. I went outside and sat in the carport, directly below the WiFi modem.

A Release Valve

The positive energy of the call with women around the world, left me feeling energized as I walked to the back door. It was locked. I had no key. I carefully placed my iPad on the washing machine and phoned my husband. No answer. I lost it. I pounded my fists on the door, and let out a blood-curdling scream. There were no words in the scream, just a huge release.

My mother, who lives downstairs, opened the door with a look of surprise.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m much better now,” I calmly replied.

Even though late in the day, it was much easier navigating the stairs, until the last four steps when exhaustion set in again. As I headed toward the bedroom, I told Wayne I couldn’t prepare supper, and fell into bed. I slept a few hours, ate a banana smeared with peanut butter, and returned to bed and my usual restlessness.

Day Three Looms

Waking up early, I felt better. However, some of the activities I had accepted as normal the week before, seemed out of place or needed adjustment. Shortly after sitting on the pew in church with my mother on Sunday morning, I felt woozy.

“I’m going to sit a spell in the Ladies Lounge, Mom. I’ll make sure I come back during the recessional.”

“Okay,” she replied.

Sitting nearly alone in the quiet of the supportive, yet comfortable chair, felt like a perfect solution to my ‘spell’. I rested, meditated, and felt somewhat refreshed as the time drew close to my scheduled return to the sanctuary.

I was mildly concerned that my ninety-one-year-old mother might have had some difficulty as I steadily walked down the aisle by the modern, stain-glass windows. However, there she was, turning slowly as the cross held high, went past her pew. I slipped in and found my absence had the benefit of offering up my unused bulletin to a late comer. They had underestimated the number of people coming to worship.

Driving home was uneventful. It was somewhat difficult to get out of the car, but my legs seemed fine, that is, until it was time to climb the stairs. At first, I wasn’t sure I could make it. But I stood tall and willed my legs up each step.

The Next 18 Hours

I slept. Eighteen hours were spent in and out of bed; sometimes tossing, sometimes thoughts invading, sometimes restful.

A New Day Dawns

There was no doubt in my mind I’d had a wake up call. I was a different, calmer person who knew what to do and felt no emotion as I started the routine of my Monday. With my cup of coffee resting on the table, I took my iPhone and started making methodical changes. Notifications were the first cut. Then the Group Memberships on Facebook dissolved. Next I made the decision to quit logging my food, moving the app to a less visible screen. By the time I’d finished my coffee, I felt lighter, calmer, and refreshed.

Right now, however, in my new way of being, I’m feeling the need to sit and stare at the lakeshore, waiting for the resident white egret.

To be continued…

Was Stress the Only Factor?

Now, in hindsight, I realize through my over zealous activity, I’ve been avoiding the one thing I fear most, writing my stories in a book, a memoir. This physical breakdown was like a door that allowed me to walk through to the other side, where my destiny awaits. I invite you to sign up for my newsletter, where I’ll bring you farther into my world of writing.

Calmly,
Dawn

From a Suicide Survivor to PTSD Diagnosis

When I wrote my suicide survivor article a few weeks ago, I had no idea I would go from a suicide survivor to PTSD diagnosis so easily. Although the likelihood you or a loved one will develop PTSD from any traumatic event is small (6.8% according to a 2020 Psychology Today blog), it is important to recognize the symptoms.

WHAT IS PTSD?

The acronym stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was first brought to light in 1980. Yet, some World War I survivors in the early 20th century were known as suffering from “shell shock”. Today, we realize it was PTSD.

Although the trauma typically associated with PTSD is extreme, as in combat, it can also occur from many other types of trauma, such as long term abuse. This Psychology Today article covers the basic information about PTSD in much more detail.

HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE?

Complex disorders like PTSD have a long list of possible short term and long term effects. The full list is included in another article.

A PEEK INTO MY THERAPY SESSION

As you might imagine, my therapist (I’m using her first name, Mary) asked me questions, allowed me to ‘tell my story’, took notes, and led me down the path of discovery.

When I used trigger words, like shame, she asked me where I thought that came from. I’ve been on my own path of self-discovery, so sometimes her questions were easy to answer.

“Shame was instilled in childhood by my parent,” I replied.

”Hmm.”

I continued my stories, clearly illustrating my PTSD symptoms with flashbacks followed by sudden emotional outbursts that I quickly quashed. There were many more nuances of my illness that Mary picked up on.

Near the end of the session, she took out a small book, which was a pocket handbook of PTSD symptoms. Reading each one, she noted her observations that matched my exhibited behavior. Thankfully, I didn’t exhibit every single symptom.

”Ahhhh…”

A huge sigh of relief escaped my body.

I had found the right therapist, there is a name for my suffering, and we will work together on a solution.

HOW IS THIS THERAPY SESSION DIFFERENT?

Unlike some therapists I’ve had in the past, Mary got to the root of the cause quickly. As I pondered the session this week, I believe there are a few clues about why this therapy session was more useful vs. past less useful sessions.

  1. I understood I had a problem.
    • I’ve allowed my intuition to guide me when I faced my sudden teary outbursts over the last few weeks rather than stuff down my emotion.
  2. I acted on my perceived problem.
    • Writing about the teary outbursts in an earlier blog resulted in research, which brought me to a suicide survivor group. The facilitators recognized my PTSD symptoms and recommended I seek out a therapist who specializes in trauma therapy.
    • A search on Psychology Today led me to a local therapist who specializes in trauma and PTSD.
  3. Finally, I was ready to acknowledge my true condition in order to grieve and come out of this.
    • My openness, honesty, and choice to not hold back during the session have developed over many small steps of journaling, seeking holistic and spiritually based avenues to peel away layers of self protection.

This list illustrates, in the bullet points, how small steps are truly the key to developing a life of fulfillment.

NEXT STEPS

This opportunity to share parts of my mental health journey is too precious to ignore. I invite you to join me as I move beyond viewing this week’s reality from a suicide survivor to PTSD diagnosis. In contrast I want to also share the many everyday discoveries that make us smile and keep us moving forward in difficult times.

By signing up for my newsletter, you will always receive the information in my blogs along with glimpses into more joyful moments of my life.

Hanging in there,
Dawn

Sometimes You Have to Fight Fear

Sometimes you have to fight fear, let it know who’s boss.

Trip of a Lifetime

Almost three years ago, in November 2017, I was in New South Wales, Australia. I wanted to study Reiki from Frans Stiene and at the time his next Reiki I class was in his home base, the Blue Mountains north of Sydney.

It was my first time in Australia and I enjoyed every minute of my short time there. The class lasted a weekend, but I was allowed an extra day to overcome the jet lag from my fourteen hour flight. Wandering around the beautifully landscaped grounds of the International House of Reiki Tomah Retreat, there were new garden vignettes at every turn. Most noteworthy, an adult tree house rose near a garden with camellias blooming just beyond. Next I found a small pond with koi. Wandering farther, I found a labyrinth of low growing shrubs. As I walked the circle, I wondered what the weekend would bring.

Unexpected Hospitality

The class far exceeded my expectations. And what fun to be the only American with eight Australians from all over the continent. Sunday arrived sooner than expected and we started thinking about heading home. Luckily, one of the other Reiki students lived in Sydney and she not only let me ride along, she delivered me directly to the front desk of my downtown 5-star, glass wonder Sydney hotel. That’s real Australian hospitality!

Modern Splendor

Similarly, the glass exterior was repeated in the room design. The bathroom was almost like one of those scenes in a carnival house of mirrors, where you think it’s the way out only to find, once again, you took a wrong turn. The difference was this hotel was elegant, warm and inviting. Something about the bathtub drew me to it. Maybe it was the marble tile edge, or the reflection of the soothing turquoise green plexiglas by the sink. I thought, what a nice way to relax before venturing out to find an evening meal.

In contrast, the prefab tub and shower combination at home was not at all inviting. But the non-slip coating on the tub floor and the rounded edge were just what I needed to hoist my plus-size body out of an Epson Salt bath I’d had a few months prior.

What Could Go Wrong?

I gently lowered myself into the warm water. The lovely scent of the bath gel and the softness of the washcloth reminded me what 5-star quality feels like. My arthritic knees were soothed and soon my toes were wrinkled as the water cooled. I reached forward and was surprised how easy it was to reach the drain release.

“What’s different here?” I asked myself.

I proceeded to turn my body sideways in order to get to my knees, which is the only way I can get out of the tub at home. But I couldn’t turn. The tub was too small and I was too big. Uh-oh. I sat upright as fear swept over me.

“I can’t get out,” I murmured.

“Okay, okay. Just relax.”

I took three cleansing breaths. That felt better. How about throwing my leg over the edge onto the floor? I tried, but I didn’t have enough strength to overcome the weight of my ample butt and I slipped right back in.

As I sat there, naked, damp, getting cold, all I could imagine was the shame of being found by the cleaning lady the next day. There it was, the look of disgust on her face. That’s when I started to get angry with myself.

“Dammit, there has to be some way I can get myself out of here.”

Will This Never End?

Sometimes you have to fight fear. Certainly the slight adrenaline rush of my anger helped me. I tried to get purchase behind me on the marble edge of the tub. My butt was off the bottom of the tub, my feet pressed against the end by the drain. I slipped. I got more angry. Through sheer will, I managed to find the strength to get up far enough to scoot one foot beneath me, pain searing through my knee. I fumbled myself into a partially upright position and managed to throw my left leg over the edge and onto the floor.

I lay crumpled on the floor weeping with relief. As I crawled to my knees, I lay my forearm over the toilet, gripping the side and was finally upright. I toweled off and pulled the plush bathrobe around myself, covering my nakedness, still trembling.

Finally Over

Exhausted, I found the menu and ordered room service; hamburger, fries and a Diet Coke. As I took my first bite, I closed my eyes, savored the texture, aroma, and charbroiled flavor of the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten.

Sated, I walked to my window and watched the lights come on as darkness descended. Right below me, across the street was Sydney’s Town Hall, a beautiful, historic Victorian building dwarfed by the towering modern skyscrapers.

“I know how you feel, old friend. But we endure, don’t we.”

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