Look up images for anxiety and three basic images appear: grabbing ones head, biting nails, or running away. And although those behaviors can be associated with anxiety, gasping for air is far more prevalent in the patients I’ve seen with severe anxiety and is the symptom I grapple with the most with C/PTSD. Like, I have to stop right now, bend over wherever I am — and suck in as much air as I can get, as I struggle to calm my heart palpitations.
I switched to a new doctor recently who doesn’t understand anxiety, let alone C/PTSD no matter my trying to explain it to him. He didn’t care to look at my dosage and frequency. All he was concerned with was my being on anti-anxiety meds over a six month period and telling me that I was addicted now and would need to go to a clinic to get off of them. I was like, “No, I’m not, and I don’t think so!”
I cried on the way home. I told my husband how furious I was that a lifetime of abuse/trauma creates illnesses from anxiety to gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune disorders to cancer in survivors, and yet perpetrators could not care less and are out living their best lives. That we get traumatized once again as we look for help and a doctor that gets it. And I was absolutely furious that I was referred to as “addicted.”
I vented in my art journal and wept some more. I wrote a letter to the pharmaceutical company for creating something with side- effects so bad that you can’t take it long term, to my original prescribing doctor who didn’t take me off it sooner, to the pharmacist who kept filling it and said nothing, and to my current doctor for being so dismissive of me. I peeled the label from its bottle and plastered it on the page and wrote, “Addicted” “Addict” across the page. I also wrote the words: accountable, balance, authentic, stable, consistent, secure, integrity, responsible, connected, solid. All the things I am and have been to myself and those I care about regardless of my anxiety-C/PTSD diagnosis.
Then, I set about weaning myself off my very, teeny, tiny dose of anti-anxiety med and I even included my anti-depressants for good measure. I’m on Day 55 of no medication and because my dose was so small, I really don’t see a difference without them; especially since I only took them at bedtime.
I didn’t like the way the doctor was dismissive of me considering his lack of knowledge about my condition and his inability to try to understand or even learn. But, I was happy to find my old self who is just bitchy, bold, and ballsy enough to want to prove this douchebag wrong and come off my meds. Without the debilitating side-effects he said I’d have and without a clinic. And even more meds to get off those meds! – What a vicious cycle they want to keep you in! No thanks!
I am writing this because I am short of breath today. I’m not doing much of anything that would cause me to be short-of-breath but I know it’s anxiety sneaking up and clobbering me with its fists, like it has my entire life. And, I will just have to stop, and draw in a breath as deeply as I can and then keep going, like I did for over four decades prior to getting anti-anxiety meds.
And, this whole thing got me thinking of the word, “addicted.” The only thing I’ve ever been addicted to was creating a loving family of my own and being the best I could be for them. Having everybody be happy and healthy. To laugh and have fun. To get along. That’s it. Not too much to ask? 🤷🏻♀️
My sense of humor reminds me that shortness-of-breath is abbreviated S.O.B. in nursing documentation. I giggle and remind myself that I can’t let the SOB’s get me down as I once again stop. And try to breathe.
I went out to lunch with a friend today and I saw two couples sitting with their 2019 wall calendars and spiral bound planners mapping out their New Year together. I love a new planner too and the hope I feel when I can see 365 days all strung out in front of me to do with what I want. 365 opportunities. 365 gifts. What are we going to do with them all?
Planning has been one of the ways I’ve kept my anxiety at bay in the past, and the type of planning and tracking I do in my planner, has changed as I’ve changed. This year, I achieved what felt like an impossible feat; finishing my first novel. It took five years to write and each year for five years straight I put it in the slot of my #1 goal, and continued to move it to the next year, and the next… and the next before it was done.
But, 2019 will be the first year that I’m adding reminders to my planner that will continue to help me protect myself as well as keep me on the road to healing the destruction left in the wake of enduring and learning of narcissistic abuse.
My 2019 resolutions related to ending abuse, disrespectful familial patterns and recovering from trauma are:
I’m going to stay angry about it. That doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s actually necessary when you are too empathetic and at risk for of being abused.
I am hanging up my Wonder Woman outfit. People will have to fight their own battles like I have. I will no longer feel it my duty to rescue others. I’m busy rescuing myself.
I will continue to take my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds and not allow people to shame me about it.
I will no longer word paint for the blind. I understand now that narcissists purposely frustrate our efforts to communicate and our desire to feel validated and are not concerned with the truth.
I will no longer be dismissed, demeaned, and devalued in my own family.
I will remain No Contact with abusers, their triangulated flying monkeys and not feel bad about protecting myself from any of them. This is not a discard. These are boundaries for my health.
People that can’t or won’t defend me against abuse are what my therapist call perpetrators of abuse. If someone is fine with me getting pummeled as long as they don’t have to get involved. Those are not my people.
I will require an apology and changed behavior from here on out. (Hint: If you’re the type of person that hates apologizing, stop doing hurtful shit to other people you have to apologize for. Simple.)
I’ll no longer be the heavy lifter in relationships and won’t accept lop-sided, sloppy seconds from people I call friends and family.
If things in my life are trying to fall apart, I will let them. I have no more strength to fight.
I will trust patterns and not words.
I will listen to my intuition when it sends me warning signals and I will proceed no further — no matter what anyone says.
I will no longer allow negative, mean bullies to take their anger out on me with unfounded accusations, criticisms, and insults. If they don’t show up with facts and examples in a respectful manner, they can keep their generalizations and projections of themselves — to themselves.
Others opinions of me are none of my business. I’ve studied myself for 51 years… I know who I am, and how I am, and I love myself.
I’m worthy of the same love, consideration and respect that I’ve given to others. Asking for those things isn’t expecting too much.
I will rest when I need to without feeling guilty for what I’m not doing.
I will no longer apologize when I’m sick or when I need something. I’m human. And my needs matter.
I will focus more on the love I’m getting than the love I’m not.
I will have self-compassion and not beat myself up for having feelings, not accuse myself of being overly-sensitive for crying or having a difficult day. Those are mental loops that play out in my head from abuse and I’m undoing them, defiantly.
I will say no without further explanation.
I won’t harm myself with hope. Hoping for reconciliation of any past relationship or wishing it was different will only leave me open for more harm.
I now know that no response — is a response. I don’t need to attend to every argument I’m invited to. I have to conserve my energy for more pressing matters like healing and living my life.
I will nourish myself with copious amounts of self-love; massages, facials, plan mini-getaways, take girl’s weekends, I will eat dinner in bed and lounge extravagantly. And I will know that I deserve everything good.
I’m only going where I feel happy, loved and accepted for who I am. I’ll surround myself with with people who are happy to celebrate me and my own successes, who are encouraging to me, love me for who and how I am, and not those who merely tolerate me. (Tolerate traffic. Love people.)
There will be more talking about the elephant in the room and less sweeping things under the rug in my family. They will grow, or go. Their choice.
This is my blog, and my outlet for healing, and I will discuss on it what I wish. I will be transparent about my life. The good, the bad, the ugly. I will be brave with my life and not be bullied or threatened regarding what I write about. I’m a memoirist. That’s what we do.
If you’re being mentally and emotionally abused, I hope my boundaries serve as reminders to you that we don’t have to take this shit anymore and we are worthy of all things lovely.
If you are in physical danger, please make a plan to leave quietly, or call 911.
If you’re here reading and we have parted on good, bad, or indifferent terms, I still wish you the very best in 2019 and always. I hope you find what you are looking for.
See that entryway? That’s what I see when I turn my head to the right as I lay in bed. It’s called a transom. It’s a decorative entryway and this one leads to a beautiful vanity room complete with crystal chandelier, and back in January of this year, I wanted to hang myself from it. — The transom, not the chandelier.
It was a gray, mildly cool January day and I was having a cozy at-home in my pajamas day and I was feeling quite content. I was in my craft room art journaling when my cell phone rang. It was my son on Facetime. I was happy to hear from him.
When he asked how I was, I thought he wanted to know, but realized quickly that nothing I said was correct in his eyes. When I mentioned I had a slight headache, I was “always sick.” Then I talked about how hurt I was over the recent loss of a 23-year friendship. I thought he’d really wanted to hear about it since this person had been in our family since he was a child. So, I told him of the passive aggressive comments and behaviors I tolerated and how my friend told me I could eat elsewhere when I asked for a dairy-free meal at his wedding. He laughed at me and said, “Mother, not everything is about you. When I get married, you’ll eat whatever the fuck we serve and like it.” He told me he could not believe I’d ruin a long-standing friendship over something so insignificant and reminded me just how nerve-racking weddings are by talking about his best friends wedding and how the sister was pissed at the groom for inviting someone she didn’t want there. When I said that wasn’t even near the same thing, this was a food allergy, he told me I was “being the dramatic victim.” When I said I’d love to see him talk to his father the way he talks to me, he said, “Why would you think I’d have to?”
Anyway, I took an hour and 45-minute bashing that day on Facetime about what a disappointment I was as a human being, how everything and anything I did or said was wrong and I was worn out from crying. I thought a nap would help me feel better. So, I mustered up the last bit of strength I had to climb my ass up the stairs and put myself to bed. I got in and got situated; small and cozy. I was tucked in tight on my right side with the covers pulled up to my nose and I had my sight set on the transom. How pretty I remember thinking. Such a nice touch to put in a house. And as the warmth enveloped me, and the exhaustion took over I had relaxed enough to wander right into the mind I’ve controlled my entire life.
Did I even own a belt? I haven’t tucked a shirt in since the 90’s. Do I have the strength to get a chair out and finagle this contraption that I would dangle from? How do you tie a noose? Would it hold my weight?
I’m not sure how long I stared at that entryway but something made me snap into awareness or come back into my body and I realized I was actually thinking about and trying to engineer in my mind as I gazed, just how in the world I could wrap a belt around the horizontal beam and hang myself before my husband got home from work.
And, it startled me half to death.
I leaped out of bed and got busy doing anything and everything I could do to distract myself. I cleaned out the fridge, made a nice meal, swept the bathroom floor naked as the tub filled, took a hot bath, slathered myself in coconut oil, put on clean pajamas, made some tea. I did anything and everything to take my mind off what I was thinking and wondered how my mind was able to get away from me like that when I’d been so good at controlling my thoughts before?
The answer: C/PTSD.
C/PTSD feels a lot like walking along minding your own business and suddenly you’re being punched in your diaphragm. POW! —Out goes your breath and in comes the flood of emotions you’ve had under wraps for so long. You’re lying on the floor in a ball sobbing trying to protect yourself from yet another blow. And as you slowly unroll yourself from a ball and stop crying long enough to look around, you realize there’s nothing there. It’s just the aftershocks of abuse.
When I first got the diagnosis in the fall of 2016, I was alarmed. That’s for people who are like… you know… really “out there” my nurse brain told me. Then, I thought about the fact I was admitted to the hospital at age 7 for what they referred to as “bad nerves” in 1974 and have, except for a few times where I’ve dabbled in trying anti-depressants, but never staying on them long enough, spent my life managing anxiety and depression naturally. What did the diagnosis of C/PTSD mean for me, I wondered? Extra bad nerves? I chuckled. Bring it, I thought. I’ve been doing hard shit since birth. I’ll fuck you up.
Well, be careful what you ask for.
Turns out, my mouth was writing checks my ass couldn’t cash. I completely overestimated my strength and abilities when it came to recovering from this because this shit is like anxiety and depression on steroids, man. I’ve been so anxiety-ridden I can feel my body “hum” deep inside. And, if you have someone in your life that is still being cruel to you like I do, it’s like The Hulk coming after you day in and day out. It gets you in its clutches and this mother-effer is hard to break free from. Just when you think you might be up and out and on the other side of what you think is just depression and sadness… there’s another blow either from the cruel person still in your life or panic attacks that wake you at 3 am like you’ve just completed a 5K race. Or the racing thoughts that are like an A.D.D. circus running around in your head at no particular time whatsoever where suddenly you just don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re at. It’s being so on edge that you’re startled by loud noises and sudden movements and you just need to go home right now. It’s intrusive thoughts that can highjack you right where you sit for no apparent reason that makes you realize your life is no longer your own.
This grieving period resides in the center of my chest like a two-ton ball bag of tears I carry around with me everywhere I go. The heaviness of the pain starts at the bottom of my jawline and hangs like a thick, heavy curtain down my neck till I feel like my throat is thick and constricting. It feels as if one day it might pull the skin clean from my face. It falls down around my shoulders and ends in a knot at the base of my skull that no massage will ever ease. It wisps down from there into my rib cage like ivy growing down a trellis and squeezes the breath from the very lungs it tries to decorate.
Suddenly everything hurtful anyone has ever said to you is flying around in your head like shrapnel.
“The best part of you ran down the crack of your mother’s ass.” “Whore just like your mother.” “Should have been an abortion.” “Always think you’re better than everyone else.” “Highfalutin.” “Who do you think you are?” “Not everything is about you!” “You’re such drama.” “You’re always sick.” You’re so negative.” “Why can’t you just stop living in the past and get over it already!?” “I didn’t invite you because my other friends wouldn’t like you.”
So, I finally surrendered to anti-depressant therapy this week when I told my doctor I couldn’t— for one more second of my life— convince myself I wasn’t depressed. I’ve tried everything. I can’t exercise this away. I can’t meditate it away. I can’t healthy eat this away. I can’t self-love this away. I can’t talk therapy this away.
I need help.
Diagnosis: Strong for too long. Prescription: Lexapro.
Then Friday, I saw my therapist, and I was especially on edge. She noticed I was short of breath and struggling to breathe as I talked about being pelted by life. I was doing the swallowing thing again. My throat tightens. I’m swallowing down my grief, she says. I’ve even come home to find a red rash around my neck as if I am physically being strangled to death after therapy. It’s hard for me to even say it all.
I told her I was embarrassed that I just couldn’t seem to get out of this tailspin I’m in. I shrugged, I couldn’t figure it out? She reminded me of all I’ve been through and am currently dealing with. Yeah, but I told her I felt either NPD or BPD and asked if she was sure it wasn’t me? She reminded me it was her job to tell me if I was either of those things and I’m not.
She said my autonomic nervous system was on overload and it would never calm down as long as I continued to be abused. And if I continued to research and try to fix something that is incapable of being fixed I wouldn’t heal. You can’t change him, he’s a grown man, she said. She sat and let me think out loud. Was it his three tours of duty that have hardened him? Does he have PTSD? Is he hurting in some way I don’t know about? Is it because he’s bitter from his divorce? That’s when I started to see a change in him, I told her. Of course, high ranking military people are narcissistic. Is it because he’s engaged now and getting married soon? Is it because he’s moving yet again due to military orders? Is he still mad that I didn’t fly over to see him when he was stationed in England? He was having a hard time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fly with my nerves. I wasn’t there for him when he really needed me. She shook her head. Doesn’t matter she said, his behavior is a choice.
She said I was astute and completely self-aware, I was able to see deeper layers in people and environments but I needed to realize I was making myself sick at this point from constant wondering what I did wrong, and researching ways to fix it. She assured me:
“It’s not your fault, you did nothing to create it, and it’s not something you can fix.”
I sat in her office and cried for the son I used to know. The one I raised to be kind and compassionate. The one that called me “mama” up until just a few years ago, now has demoted me to “mother.” She shook her head with tears in her eyes and said how sorry she was that I was going through this. I’m sandwiched in between a narcissistic family of origin that devalues and discards and now a grown son who either treats me like shit or discards his step-father for defending me. We are always put in Wrongville.
My husband who was the only one I told about my transom trance back in January inboxed my son after the Facetime browbeating and asked him to be nicer to me. He explained to him, a 32-year-old man, that he had no idea what his mother was going through. (I was still writing Steel Town Girl.) My son told him to have a good life and deleted him from FB.
When my husband had a health scare and I posted about it, I heard nothing from him. When we found out in May that my husband’s brain tumor discovered in 2004, is now growing, it was still crickets. But, when Senator John McCain died of brain cancer, there was my son, writing paragraphs of condolences to his family and talking about what a great guy he was to meet. It’s like purposeful slaps in our faces and I just can’t even one more day.
I told my husband a few years ago that I was so tired of abuse that if one more person was mean to me, I might not make it.
I’m a nurse and know that some people need help for depression, I just didn’t want to be one of them. I felt having to rely on medicine meant I had completely succumbed to the pain of grief and made me feel beyond mental and broken. I was proud I had gotten through so much in life without a drug or alcohol addiction, and doing it all basically without being medicated made me feel even stronger. But, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place and the pressure that creates a diamond sometimes isn’t worth this pain anymore.
My biggest suffering — my childhood— and the deep work of processing it in my book Steel Town Girl have awakened me to the fact that it’s never been about me and isn’t my burden to carry anymore. But having to now deal with this relationship shift with my son feels like a big punch to the gut. He’s been the love of my life since the day he was born and was how I earned my secure attachment in life according to my therapist. And now, in order to protect myself from further harm, I have to put up boundaries that to me, feel like a discard. How cruel is this spectrum? ‘Round and ’round it goes… and it’s the absolute fucking worst for those of us stuck in the middle. And now, I feel narcissistic even writing about this. Am I throwing my own son under a bus? I just don’t know anymore, but this pain has to go somewhere else other than into my body. And being a good mom doesn’t mean we have to tolerate disrespectful behavior.
I’m in a rabbit hole. Most days, no one even suspects I’m down here. They walk over the hole and don’t know there’s a living thing here buried under their feet trying to survive. I hate it here. It’s dark and airless; cold, except for my own hot, stale breath, and sadly, it’s here in this dank, dark tunnel I have to recover because it’s just too risky to even peek your head out. Being in here is like trying to find life in a grave and I’m trying not to die. And it’s so not me. I love life. I love to laugh and do things to help others, but right now I have to worry about helping myself. — Not something I’m used to and every day I’m trying not to die, I feel like a selfish bitch. Me, me, me. Ick. —But, fifty years is a shit ton of time to neglect yourself for the sake of others.
I feel like I’ve been giving away decadent cakes while accepting mere crumbs from people in return, and I’m not doing that shit one more fucking day.
My therapist has added these additional steps to help aid in healing C/PTSD:
Yoga classes geared toward healing traumas, ASAP
No/low contact with abusers, flying monkeys and those they triangulate.
Remind myself that boundaries are not a discard.
No caffeine, only herbal teas to decrease anxiety and palpitations
Ask my GP for Klonopin to help me sleep better
Continue to make art, go on walks, continue to meditate, learn to receive
No watching the news, no graphic images. (I don’t do those things anyway because I’m way too sensitive to them. So easy peasy!)
And no more researching NPD or BPD online since there is so much misinformation on YouTube and in FB groups that only serves to harm those of us who are already hurting by sharing incorrect information. She assured me that I already knew enough about this spectrum from real life and am saturated with information overload that is keeping me stuck.
And she gave me permission not to give a shit anymore! She assured me once again, that I did not cause this, I can’t fix this and it’s not my fault.I’m not the narcissist, I’m not borderline. I’m the abused and I’m having a very natural reaction to cruel treatment. I’ve been dealt a hand in life that would kill most and I’m allowed to have feelings about it.
When she walked me out of her office and to the end of the hall, she said she was proud of me for asking for help and for seeing everybody in the world’s perspective on this, but now, I needed to see this from my body’s perspective. When I told her I promised I’d do better and I’d keep working to get better, she said, “Stop. You’ve worked long and hard enough on this… now, you’re just trying something new.”
My husband and I went out to eat after counseling and this song came on in the restaurant.