This follows on from another post entitled My PTSD Experience.
I was unable to blog about my experience of Body Memories last week, but I am feeling much calmer this week, so I have included this here. Also, I wanted to post some more about my day to day experiences and some pointers and tips for those who know me.
This next bit comes with a trigger warning and an extra warning to anyone who knows me. Please read with caution.
Body Memories are horrible, I thought I was crazy when I first had one. They are pretty much what they are called, a memory you feel somewhere on your body. Sometimes they accompany flashbacks, sometimes they happen after a nightmare. Sometimes they just happen, no particular memory or trigger I can identify. I feel pain or a sensation on my body that does not belong to now. (Ok, here comes the bit I warned about) To be frank, I can physically feel as if I am being or have been raped. That feeling disgusts me, it makes me want to leave my body. I feel irritable and angry, I usually dissociate to deal with it. These come and go, I seem to have more when I’m remembering a memory I have blocked, or when I am avoiding a memory. I am getting better at grounding from them. By treating myself well with eating properly and exercising regularly, I feel like I’m taking back control of my body.
I read once, that for someone suffering Post Traumatic Stress, the ordinary is often overwhelming, “the mere becomes sheer.” That is my daily life. Even on a good day like today, I still have heightened senses, I still struggle with a sensory overload, I am still bombarded with intrusive memories. Each day I have worries and thoughts and fears that infiltrate every aspect of my day. Small tasks take more effort than they should, this is obviously much worse when I’m having a bad day, it can get to the point where I am barely able to function. Better days, or even most days, I function fine, but it’s effort; getting up in the morning is effort, I always wake to some kind of hyper vigilance, it is always there. I have to ground myself every day, even on a good day, I have to do it. It is never gone, it never leaves me.
I struggle with noise a lot, it’s strange because I used to fill my life with noise as a distraction. I hated silence, I would always have the TV, or music on. I couldn’t go to sleep without a DVD on, or be alone without some kind of noise. Now I often find loud noises difficult. My inability to deal with noises, particularly sudden ones, are worse when I’m hyper vigilant (as mentioned in my last post on this topic), but even day to day, even when I’m not experiencing any symptoms, I find lots of noises together difficult. On a bad day, everything feels louder than normal, as if the volume is stuck on LOUD. On a good day, I can handle one loud noise at a time, I can enjoy loud music for example, but say if there is music on, the children playing, then my husband is trying to talk to me, I feel like my head may explode. I know that is probably true of most, but it makes me so overwhelmed, I feel my mind sort of shutting down, it all just becomes one big blur of noise. I feel overloaded, I feel like all the noises are competing with each other, each one intrusive. It then becomes about staying in control.
To be triggered by symptoms is quite normal, for me at least. I am often triggered by dissociating. The dissociation I experience first started when I was abused, it was my escape from reality. When I dissociate now, it reminds me of back then (triggered) which causes further distress, which in turn can lead to deeper dissociation. It is often a viscous circle and it is hard to find a way out. It is much the same with fear. I fear, fear. Fear is incredibly triggering for me. My T said just last week that all my associations of fear are to do with the person who abused me. My experience of fear was the abuse and the abuser, so when I feel fear, it triggers me, which means more fear etc.- another cycle that is difficult to break free from.
In general “nipping it in the bud” tends to be the best way of dealing with all the symptoms, calming them before they become big enough to trigger me further. It is much harder to ground myself when I’m so stressed that I’m dissociating. Spotting the signs of hyper vigilance or dissociation early enough is definitely the best way of dealing with it. I’m getting better at recognising the signs and starting to learn how to handle them before they get out of hand. It’s a work in progress.
I doubt very much that anyone that meets me has any idea that I have these symptoms, even if I experience them when I am with that person. I am very good at hiding it, I’ve been hiding it from myself as well as everyone else for a very long time. It’s actually very natural for me to cover it up. It’s an effort to be myself and feel what I do feel in front of others. It’s something I am working on.
Here are some signs to look out for, mostly specific to me:
Signs I am triggered- I wear stretchy bead bracelets, they help with grounding, if I am playing with them, then I am triggered or I am concerned about getting triggered. If the bracelet(s) are off and in my hands, then it’s likely that I’ve just had a flashback and I’m grounding. Flashbacks are over quickly (normally), I tend to go quiet and then concentrate on grounding. If it was a really bad once, I may stop responding, I may be a little agitated and irritable. Most likely, I will be trying to hide it, so will continue to try to talk and respond as normal. I can lose track of conversations, completely forget what I am in the middle of saying or what someone is saying to me as a result of a Flashback. It can also happen if I am dissociated. Ultimately, if I’m getting confused, or tripping over my words, then I am probably struggling.
Hyper Vigilance: if I am able to, I will communicate that I’m hyper vigilant, otherwise signs to look out for are shaking and/or an inability to keep still. I don’t just mean shifting position to get comfortable, I mean moving around a lot, sometimes just twitchy, sometimes my whole body. Hyper vigilance makes me feel incredibly triggered, I will be grounding constantly and trying to comfort myself, perhaps holding/ touching a pillow, or blanket.
Dissociation, it’s hard to tell if someone is dissociating. As I said in my last post, I tend to go on to auto pilot, I feel like I’m in a daydream. I can carry on conversations, continue to take care of my children etc. Though, as above, I can get confused easily, forgetting things I’ve just said or done.
Main signs to look out for:
Losing track of a conversation
Unable to keep still
What to do if you notice any of this? Nothing really! There is no need to stop any conversation we may be having. If I cannot handle something I will make the change. I will steer the conversation away from any topic I cannot deal with. If I’m talking while showing symptoms, let me continue to talk, I won’t say any more than I want to. Trust me to know my own body and mind and to know what I can and cannot deal with. If you are unsure, ask. I am much more likely to tell you what I am experiencing if you ask.
One final and main point:
Please do not touch me: an accidental touch is fine, I’m not going to freak out 😉 but unless you’ve had the “ok” from me, a hug for example, is a no no. This goes for men in particular, even if it is a man I know and trust. And personal space- again, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit next to me, just not too close and please don’t lean across me, it scares me and makes me feel trapped.