PTSD makes chaos feel at once jarring and comforting.
As a survivor of childhood sexual (and other forms of) abuse, I grew up in constant chaos. I never knew from one day, hour, or moment to another how things were going to shake out. It was impossible to know whether my dad would come home drunk or in a rage, or both. If my mother would make me clean the bathtub for hours, berating me until she decided she was done. If we would have food or not. Or if everything would be fine, but in a calm-before-the-storm way, with lightning in the air that makes the hair on your neck and arms stand up on end.
One of the curses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is feeling completely uncomfortable with peace and quiet, and in my element when there’s chaos in and outside of my head.
Managing the PTSD Chaos Brain
One of the themes of my life over the last several years is my apparent inability to pace myself. I go gung-ho, get really excited, go go go some more, keep going even when I need to stop, and then crash in a blaze of glory. I like to tell myself that I don’t really know my limits until I push against them and then fail to take care of myself.
And to a certain extent, this is true. I know – and respect – more of my limits now than I did a year ago. And I have learned the hard way, friends. But I wanted to know if there was any way to get in front of it, to manage the chaos brain before gearing up into out-of-controlness and crashing completely.
There is, and it requires getting calm, quiet, and peaceful. And there is nothing more disturbing to my psyche than calm, quiet, and peaceful.
Getting Quiet in the PTSD Chaos Brain
Two instances reminded me about how valuable it is to get quiet in order to break through the PTSD chaos brain. The first one was at my youngest son’s birthday party. We took him to a family fun center, and we spent the afternoon enjoying playing arcade games, driving go karts, playing miniature golf, and tromping around the ropes course…a million feet in the air.
Okay, maybe not a million feet, but enough to make me think seriously of just taking my harnessed self back down the stairs and avoiding the whole thing. Instead, I made Husband go in front of me, across these bouncy, uneven wooden squares that took us from one side to the other. I don’t know exactly how high it was, but it was enough to make me check the safety harness. Twice.
I started to panic, one foot on the steady platform, one foot on the bouncy and wobbly step. I couldn’t help but look down, as I had to see where I was going with each step. I took a deep breath. And another one.
I felt myself go inward with each breath, not disconnecting in the PTSD-dissociative way, but connecting deep in my gut. This was scary, but I could cope. With every breath, I took another wobbly step and found my balance on each of the four sides of this ropes course.
In the midst of the chaos, I had found my calm.
How Grief Broke Through the PTSD Chaos
The other instance of finding my peace in chaos was simply more painful. It was Mother’s Day.
I find every holiday difficult, except for Halloween. I like seeing all my neighbors and their kids and the talking and laughing and sense of community. The rest of the holidays, however, can kiss my butt. Mother’s Day is one of those.
I usually have a plan for each holiday, regarding how I will take care of myself. This last Mother’s Day, though, I was just so tired. It’s like when I do all that self-care work and still feel like shit, only less so, or for less days or hours in a row.
I didn’t want to do anything, so I stayed in bed for most of the day. And for most of the day, I liked it. I watched some movies, ate my favorite toast, drank coffee, took my meds, played Candy Crush – it was wonderful. Late in the afternoon, though, all the numbing and coping wore off.
I reached out to Husband, who sat with me, arms around me. “Maybe we’ll go for a walk,” I said.
“Do you want to go for a walk because you want to, or because you think you should?” he asked.
I was quiet for a moment. The spinning chaos in my brain slowed down. I drilled down, inward, into the calm, connecting with my gut. “I think that I believe that if I just keep moving, maybe the pain won’t hurt as bad.” And, you guessed, I started to ugly-cry.
The pain was sharp in my chest, balanced by relief and calm. For awhile, grief helped me break through the PTSD chaos.
About PTSD Parent
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