I had such a difficult therapy session today I don't know how to begin.
But first, Monday was the hottest day ever in Los Angeles. EVER. 113 degrees. When I can home, my rats were all flat. That's what they do when they're hot- they flatten out. They also lie on their side and close their eyes so they look dead. I don't like that. My thermometer only goes up to 90, so I only know it was hotter than that. I don't have air conditioning, so I opened all the windows and the sliding door to my balcony. By 11 pm, it was still hotter than 90 degrees. I knew I had to leave the sliding door open because it was the only significant source of fresh air (the fans were having practically no effect) and the little rats cage is near the door and they were still lethargic.
So I left the door open and tried to sleep in my room, but I kept coming out to the living room to check for prowlers on my balcony. I live on the second floor and there's really no way to get on the balcony without a ladder, but my fear of rapists coming into my apartment is exceedingly strong. Finally, because of that and because my bedroom was still so hot, I ended up sleeping on my couch clinging to a pair of scissors. I figured I could stab someone in the eyes with them, but I wouldn't cut myself in my sleep. Welcome to my world.
Actually, one of the reason I write in this blog is to try to let some of this out and try to explain to someone, anyone, what it's like to have PTSD. This is what we talked about in therapy today. Not the balcony door, rather, my therapist gave me a questionnaire that was designed by one of her mentors who works with Vietnam vets. It does three things- gives you a global distress score, a PTSD score, and scores you on the three categories of PTSD symptoms- re-experiencing trauma (nightmares and flashbacks), avoidance/numbing (emotional numbness, avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, difficulty trusting people and expressing feelings, memory problems), and increased arousal (panic attacks, difficulty falling asleep and with concentration, anxiety, irritability). They also developed a scale for comparison, so my score could be compared to the averages for battered wives, children who have to go through surgery, people in car accidents, etc.
I've been working with my therapist for a year, and I feel like a trust her and try really hard to be totally honest with her and tell her what's going on with me, and explain how I feel, and she was still completely shocked by the scores I got. I wasn't. My global distress score was 90, and my PTSD score was 50. That doesn't really mean anything on it's own, but the group I have the closest scores with were Vietnam vets. Think about that. My therapist explained it by saying that most people with the severity of PTSD that I have are acting out in very serious ways- getting arrested, addicted to drugs, coming into the VA looking completely psychotic, beating their spouse and/or children, etc. This is what my therapist said. She was stunned. She expressed that she was and I could see it, and I, having filled out the questionnaire, was not surprised at all. I knew my score was going to be very high. I live with these side affects every day. My scores were high for all three categories-re-experiencing, avoidance/numbing, and increased arousal. Again, not surprised although I thought I was doing less numbing now than I realized.
As far as the categories go, if I could get rid of the symptoms in any one category right now, I would go with increased arousal. If I could get through my days (and nights) without panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, heart palpitations, and insomnia, if I was calm and well-rested, the numbness and re-experiencing would be a lot easier to handle. Not easy, but easier. Potential the most complicated symptom is the numbness though. I go numb when I get emotionally overwhelmed. It's like my internal version of taking emotional painkillers. It happens involuntarily, which is both a testament to my subconscious ability to take care of myself, and the most frustrating side affect to try to use willpower to change. It really does happen involuntarily, without the participation of my conscious mind. My conscious mind likes to think it is in control, so this can be a little disconcerting. It can also make me feel disconnected from my life and passively depressed. It can cause real problems too, like when I should be acting or reacting and I've just checked out. The more stressful the situation, the more I can block it out. The can cause me to feel trapped in something that I could walk away from. It can also do the opposite, keep me from really experiencing my life or connecting with someone because I'm just not emotionally there.
It is a disability of sorts. I am limited in how much I can handle other people's emotions because of the difficulty I have managing my own. My best friend in Seattle has been going through a really trying time, I was there for her whenever she needed me until she told me she was feeling suicidal. Then I just couldn't go there with her. I feel like a world-class heel. This is when she needs support and understanding the most, and I have experience with depressed and suicidal people, including myself. But the idea of losing her to suicide is so terrifying to me that I had to distance myself. Of course I'm questioning myself and thinking I'm the worst friend in the world, but I just can handle the grief I feel even considering her death. I broke down weeping when I tried to tell my therapist about it. It feels like an endless chasm of pain that I can't look down for fear I'll lose myself in it. When Jeff took his life, the life that I knew ended and it took me 10 years to feel like I was starting to get my legs back under me again. I can't go through that again. I just don't have the capacity. I really just can't. I love her so much, but I am limited. I can be a superhero when it comes to surviving and coping and getting through really bad things, but I've taken a lot of damage along the way. I am not healed yet. My emotional stores are scrapping the bottom. I hate to feel impaired like this. I want to kick ass all the time, be the best person I can be, move mountains, laugh in the face of danger. I want to be larger than life. In some ways I am. But the reason I learned to fly was that my legs were crushed. It's taking time for me to learn to walk, having never done it before.