Since I created this blog in July 2010, I have written faithfully, posting at least once a month, save for a couple of months. One of those months passed me by recently. It wasn’t for lack of time spent in deep reflection on my own human condition or for lack of time spent writing. I wrote a lot this past fall, pages and pages in fact. I began many essays but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) seem to finish them. I would start with a bang and then stop in a fizzle. I even spent hours upon hours, typing essays on the typewriters my husband was acquiring at what some might consider an alarming rate, especially considering we would have to figure out how to get them back to the United States since our time in Belgium was temporary. When it became clear that scanning the many typed pages and converting them into a PDF or Word doc I could then transpose to the World Wide Web was not possible, I admit that my momentum came to a crashing halt. The thought of then rewriting all of those pages was just not enticing.
Why didn’t I finish the essays I began? Why didn’t I share the ones I finished? Mostly, I did not want to overwhelm you, my dedicated readers, with page after page of rhetorical musings on the condition I was studying.
This condition is called Complex PTSD, and it is one that the four or five different therapists/psychiatrists I have seen in Belgium have written beside my name. In my desire to be well, I began but did not finish many ebooks and articles on healing from trauma, the highly sensitive person, and so on and so forth. To begin with, as a highly sensitive person I could only read a little at a time from each text because the information contained therein was simply too triggering. If I read before bed, sleep was far less attainable.
What has been determined through work with one therapist in particular is that the activities and habits I had been cultivating, thinking I was being creative in shifting my dour perspective and propensity toward depression and rage into positivity, productive work was actually more of a very refined practice of avoidance of anything triggering or upsetting or painful. Anytime anything brought up unpleasant emotions that I just did not want to feel, I did something to avoid embracing that emotion. To put it plainly, it’s exhausting feel so much so often. Sometimes (most of the time), I just want a break, a vacation from my Self.
While on the surface, this looked like resilience, the lesson I was teaching my nervous system was that it was no acceptable to feel intense emotion and even less acceptable to act upon those emotions. Deaden them, by all means and at any cost, however possible. Watch Netflix series. Read the same book over and over because I know every word by heart so there is nothing surprising or stressful. And if there are stressful parts, skip over them to get to more soothing passages. Drink wine, bourbon. Take medication to take the edge off. Take medication to assuage panic attacks.
Dull everything from the shiny intensity that makes life less comfortable.
Pretty much every yoga teacher I have studied with has told me about their teachers telling them that if they are not uncomfortable, they are not growing. Well, as a person who experiences very extreme emotions and responses to local and global events and people’s actions, I can say with authority that intense emotions are overrated. When I take a panic pill, unfailingly, after about 45 minutes have passed I realize I didn’t need to take the pill at all. I am fine. Of course, this is purely due to the fact that the medication is working.
I often ask my husband, Is this what other people feel like most of the time?
It seems so romantic and desirable to just be “normal,” to not feel everything so acutely and to not take everything so personally.
Even the practice of writing about what I am experiencing is triggering, so I have been putting it off.
This therapist I saw for nearly a year suggested that rather than avoiding the emotions, the only way to get past experiencing volcanic eruptions of emotion would be to dive into them and find a way to cognitively convince myself that I was safe even if I was uncomfortable. She suggested that the rage and frustration I would experience over events that would not “normally” affect me so acutely were the result of my unwillingness to process pain and grief and all those uncomfortable feelings I had been working so diligently to avoid. Refusing to process them, to really feel and honor them, meant that they would simply simmer, eventually rising to a boil, and then, ultimately, boiling over. The boiling point would arrive when little things were not working. My dog might be pulling nonstop on his leash, simmer simmer simmer, and then I would wind up tripping over the root of a tree and screaming bloody murder in the middle of the forest.
How to feel what I feel, process, and make peace with it? I am not totally sure, but I am working on figuring that out.
I have my mantra: I am uncomfortable, and that is ok.
I have bourbon (because honestly, a little tot goes a long way, and why not).
I plenty of literature to revisit and reflect upon.
I think much of this process is about learning to be kind, patient, and gentle with myself. Traits that I am able to offer other people in abundance but that I am miserly with when it comes to my own Self.
Do these struggles sound familiar? Would you like to hear more? By all means, do not hesitate to let me know. I would love to hear from you.
Yours in authenticity,