Healing, Not Fixing, PTSD

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often best approached as a chronic condition that may have “flare-ups.” This is true of many other mental illnesses and mental injuries as well.

It can certainly be the case that someone experiences some symptoms of PTSD one time and never again in their life, but for most of us, what it means is that we are vulnerable to experiencing symptoms again during periods of stress (or in the case of activating events).

We are experiencing healing, which means we are able to improve certain things with support and as we learn to attend to ourselves, but we don’t know how much everything will heal nor how long it may take. This is different than “fixing,” which is when we remove a “broken” part and replace it, and then everything is as though nothing ever happened. You are an organism, not a bicycle.

This does not mean “I have PTSD, so now everything is hopeless forever,” it means that we need to learn how to manage our environments, life situations, and our selves in order to reduce the severity of symptoms and the likelihood of recurrence, rather than to assume “I haven’t had any symptoms in a year, this must mean it’s okay to stop attending to myself!”

It means not subjecting ourselves to unreasonable stressors and life-sucking situations, personally and in our work. It means taking our physical and emotional discomfort seriously instead of blowing it off until it blows up. It means not listening to internalized minimizing messages that say “suck it up” when distressed. It means learning to re-parent ourselves where necessary.

It means treating ourselves with support, care, and dignity, and developing boundaries to ensure that others do, too. It means practicing self-care as a habit, not only when unduly stressed. It means recognizing symptoms as symptoms, rather than as some kind of weakness that deserves self-punishment.

It means learning what events, people, and circumstances make your symptoms worse, and modifying those as best you can. It means learning what activities, people, and circumstances help you feel better, and including those more. It means taking yourself to the doctor or the therapist when you need to go. Sounds simple, but it’s not always easy!

Basically, it means learning to take care of ourselves “as though” our well-being actually mattered instead of as an afterthought. Let me repeat: treat yourself like your well-being matters, because it does. ❤

 

“Treating yourself with kindness is a life skill. It doesn’t matter whether you are ”good at” this skill It only matters that you keep going💛” — Jeffrey Marsh

 

 

Our First “From You”: “Belonging to Yourself”

 

 

From time to time, our clients bring in articles, books, essays, or other materials that they have found especially helpful in work we are doing. Since one of the most valuable reviews is from someone who has been there, we’d like to share the helpfulness with others who may need it!

Today’s link is an article by Celeste Scott. It features an aspect of self-parenting: learning to belong to yourself instead of waiting for permission or approval from others.

To learn about other aspects of self-parenting (or self-re-parenting) in adulthood, read more on our blog here.

 

Methodist Church Votes to Maintain Opposition to LGBTQ

In St. Louis this week, 53% of Methodist delegates voted to continue the “traditional model,” which opposes same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy, leaving some LGBTQ members and clergy excluded and heartbroken.

WaPo coverage at Twitter link below, and here: UMC Vote.

If you would like to make an appointment for pastoral counseling with our newest colleague, LGBT-supportive Methodist pastoral counselor, Rev. Dr. John G. Smith, please contact us by email or phone.

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Practice Loving Kindness for Mental Health

 

Be loving to yourself and to others: Mental illness deserves as much care as any other illness or injury. It’s not “laziness” or being “weak” or flawed in character. Practice acceptance and support instead of criticism.

Mental illness is usually unlike the movies. Cultivate loving kindness to yourself instead of judgment and criticism. [Try Loving Kindness meditation by Tara Brach to spread love to self and others.]

Remember that mental illness often affects every aspect of a person’s life and health.

Acceptance: Making People into Trees

Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:

 

“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…

 

New York Passes Landmark LGBTQ Equality Legislation

New York State Bans Dangerous Conversion “Therapy,” Protects Gender Expression in legislation passed today:

Pennsylvania is NOT among the states to have passed a statewide ban on conversion “therapy.” Only 18% of our population is estimated to be protected by local bans in our state. Check out the maps on this site for more information:

 

map-conversion-therapy

 

 

Mindfully Running a Half-Marathon

Having PTSD and asthma means that there are many times I can’t run or my training is derailed for short or long periods.

I began running because it was an activity I remembered enjoying in childhood, and I really wanted to reclaim it. I also wanted to improve my cardiopulmonary health. I never thought I would make it up to even a single mile! But that wasn’t the important part. I wanted to develop a habit and create new, positive mental associations.

My training method was this: I would run only as far as it felt good and enjoyable, and then stop or walk. If I felt like it, I could start again. When I felt done, I was done!

Because I took the performance pressure (“shoulds”) off myself and made the activity 100% about enjoyment and health, it ended up being something I have stuck with, and I progressed far more than I imagined possible.

Not only do I only run as much as feels okay, I likewise never pressure myself to run when I’m not feeling well, or I’m too tired from missing sleep, or something hurts.

In this way I am mindful of not being a punitive taskmaster towards myself, which would activate PTSD symptoms and also put me at increased risk for injury or illness. Exercising punitively is a form of perfectionism that can be injurious very quickly.

I accept my current level of ability as it is, knowing it does not make me superior or inferior to anyone else. I also know my ability is temporary, fluctuates, and includes a large component of sheer luck.

I pay caring attention to my body’s needs, which sometimes (often!) means I have to re-start my training all over again from mile 1. But it also means I am more likely to be able to continue running further into my lifespan.

I hope that whatever kind of exercise you prefer, you remember that the point of exercise is to improve your physical and mental health, rather than to punish your body (for eating, for example!) If you are exercising in a self-punitive way, it will not be healthy for you for very long.

And I want you to experience as much physical and mental health as you can, for as long as you can!

Depression Part 3: Nurture Yourself Back to Life

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3: Physical Aspects–Sleep and Nutrition

It can be very hard to take care of yourself even at the best of times, especially if you have a trauma history. And when you’re depressed, it can be even harder to take care of yourself. You might feel too drained, sad, and even unworthy of care. But this is exactly when it is most important to take care of yourself, even if you can only do a little bit.

Just do the little bit that you can. And keep doing it.

First, stabilize your physical aspect as best you can. The four most crucial mental health needs of your body are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and social interaction. You may also be considering medication.

Sleep: regular sleep is probably the single most important thing your body needs to maintain mental health. If you have been skimping on sleep in order to get things done, you may need to let a lot more tasks go in order to recover. The purpose of sleep is to release toxins from your brain cells. If you are not getting enough sleep, then you are intoxicated, and not in a fun way–your brain is poisoned. Start developing a sleep routine that is as regular as you can make it, close to the same time every night.

If you are struggling with insomnia, the insomnia needs to be addressed so you can get the sleep you need. It’s not uncommon for depression or anxiety to remit simply by getting your sleep stabilized. Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid: alcohol is not only a depressant, but it also interferes with sleep cycles, so it can worsen sleep problems.

If depression is causing you to sleep too much, it may be most useful to first address other physical aspects of depression before trying to cut down on sleep. Besides, is it actually “too much”? You may need extra sleep for the time being. If it feels like you are convalescing from an illness, that is because you are.

Nutrition: Your body needs fuel in order to operate physically and mentally. Your mood will be worsened by hunger, even if you are not feeling the hunger. At least get a bit of  protein and some complex carbohydrates. If your appetite has dropped and you are having trouble eating, or caring about eating, then try having something like Ensure, or chocolate milk, or kefir on hand – it can be easier to drink something. If you can eat a little something a few times a day, even if not your usual meals, it will help you not to sink further into depression.

When you’re feeling up to it, treat yourself nicely when you eat. It can be comforting. It may be you’re just eating condensed soup sitting on the couch, but see if you can eat it from your favorite bowl. Or try eating something that reminds you of childhood in a pleasant way.

When you have regained enough energy to attend better to your meals, you can get back to what you would normally eat, but for now it’s okay to just eat something.

If you are suddenly eating a lot more than you normally would, try to be gentle with yourself. There is a reason you are doing this–you feel bad!–and it’s not worth harshly criticizing yourself. Indeed, you will make yourself feel worse and it might compound the issue. Remember the important thing is to fuel yourself and restore your balance overall, and do so gently. The goal is not to sternly restrict. That may backfire.

 

Next: Physical Aspects–Basic Exercise, Social Interaction, Medication

Depression Part 2: When You’re Depressed

Part 1

Part 2:

Recognize Depression: Depression often creeps up gradually and may affect you for a while before you realize what is happening. What effects do you usually experience? Are your symptoms usually physical, emotional, or cognitive, or a combination? Exhaustion, achiness, overwhelm, lack of motivation, negative thoughts, suicidality? (See Part 1.) If you have a better idea of your own symptom profile, you will be able to catch a depressive episode sooner when it occurs.

It is often a great relief simply to realize why you’ve been feeling bad. Also, it can be encouraging to remember that most depressive episodes remit within two weeks even without intervention!

Accept Depression: Depression can be tricky because we often have a belief that if we recognize what’s going on, we should be able to “snap out of it” by some act of will. While it’s good to try some things you think might help you feel better, the process is healing rather than fixing. You are an organism, not a mechanical device. It may take some time to get through the healing process.

Most people feel impatient about this, because depression interrupts whatever else you’re trying to do with your life. That’s the part most people have a hard time accepting. But depression is a real thing that really affects people on many levels, so work on accepting how your feelings and your functioning are affected. Then you can better decide how to address it.

Beating yourself up for “feeling bad for no reason” or “not getting enough done” will only make things worse! It may be that during some depressive episodes you will  feel bad “for no reason” or that you may not get as much done as you want to. That’s what happens during depression. You can do many things to support your healing, but you can’t just decide to not have depression.

Most people experiencing depression–even severe depression–are mostly functional in some life areas, which can lead to denial or minimization. “They must not be very seriously depressed, I just saw them laughing and joking at a party,” or “I can’t have severe depression since I’m able to work 12-hour shifts on a busy floor.”

Functionality varies from situation to situation and from day to day. You can be functional in one or more life area, or appear “okay” to others. That doesn’t mean the depression isn’t real or isn’t serious.

 

Depression Part 3: Nurturing Yourself Back to Life