When I was growing up, some famous person used to say, "Eat right and exercise every day." I'm guessing it was on a television commercial or some PBS show, because I remember hearing it more than once. It always made sense to me--even though when I heard it, I'm not sure I understood what "eat right" meant. Quite frankly, I'm not sure most people know because nutrition standards change often and they work best when they're personalized. However, I think that phrase was one of the reasons I began with healthy eating and regular exercise when I needed to manage PTSD.
I learned it wasn't enough after about three months. It helped a great deal, but I was still struggling with a number of other symptoms. So I incorporated a mind/body connection. Movement is incredibly helpful for me, but I go to it because I have always found sitting still to be difficult. I have learned that I need time to sit quietly every day, and think.
I don't have to do this for long periods of time, but I do need to have uninterrupted quiet. It is during this time that I figure out a number of things that have been racing around in my brain, trying to attract my attention. I am an expert at ignoring them.
Some have referred to this time as meditation. That might be the proper term. I know I'm unable to do structured meditation, such as one might encounter in a yoga class. I've tried this. It's stressful. It's not what I need. What I need is simply quiet time during which I allow my mind to wander.
I cannot do this outside. If you've ever taken a walk with me, you'll remember that our conversation is punctuated by: "Wow! Look at the clouds!" or "Did you see that shiny bug?" or "I love the way the wind sounds when it blows through the prairie grass," or "Yay! Butterflies!" or "Those are my favorite flowers. So are daisies, and roses, and irises, and orchids, and bachelor buttons, and ..." or "Those birds are flying!" or some other completely off-topic observation I'm noticing in the moment. I am completely distracted by my surroundings. And probably when I get home I'll remember the bird or flower or cloud or bug or sky or wind--and I'll have no idea what we covered in our conversation.
So I make time when everyone is still sleeping, or I stay up after they've gone to bed, and I think. Sometimes I let myself imagine scenarios that make me feel peaceful or comforted. Occasionally I allow other people into my thoughts. I do not guide my thoughts, but I do block any that might be practical or necessary (like, "Oh! I need to pay bills tomorrow," or "I should go clean my fridge," or "This might be a good time to plan menus for the week."). I try to let my mind go where it will, as long as it has nothing to do with tasks before me, work topics, or thoughts that cause me stress.
The thinking times have taken on different forms during the past decade. There have been times when I've been working on something abstract for therapy, when I have used that time to figure things out or speculate on possible solutions or scenarios.
There are also times when I have no planned direction in my thoughts, but I allow myself to consider many possibilities. Sometimes I think about sleep. Sometimes I allow myself a tiny bit of time and space to think about how my life would be different without PTSD--without memories of rape and abuse--without social anxiety or trust issues. I think about having a life where love is accepted without question, people are allowed to be close without my having to strictly monitor my feelings and fears. I think about who I am and how I wish I could comfortably be that person. But, as I said, I limit that thinking time.
Mostly I think about relaxing, living in the moment, accepting what is mine no matter what that means. I always know when I am finished. My body tells me it's ready to move again, my brain says it's time to think about more present tasks, and I find that I'm breathing better and feeling more capable of accomplishing the things on my to-do list.
I have no doubt that this quiet time of mine will morph into many different things as my needs change. It's the part of my PTSD regimen I dislike the most, but is too important and helpful to disregard. There are times when I skip it--the thought of sitting still with my thoughts sometimes feels terrifying. Then I realize that skipping this part only intensifies the PTSD symptoms.
Wow. I really hate writing about this. I think about Darrin, whose Monday-Friday routine consists of rising in the morning, shave/showering, eating breakfast, playing a bit on Facebook, going to work, teaching computer and accounting classes, talking with students, coming home, helping with and eating dinner, grading papers/watching stupid car shows on TV, then going to bed. On Saturday he sleeps till 10, then fixes any car problems, does yard work, grades more papers, watches more stupid car shows...His life just seems simpler.
I know. Comparing is a very bad idea. I think it's just this week. Every day, doing what I know is helpful and good feels like a struggle. I'm out of sorts and cranky. Therapist would tell me I'm not following my PTSD maintenance plan consistently. I would tell him that I dislike him intensely. Then he would laugh at me. More than likely I'd join him. But I'd still dislike him because he's right. Then Therapist would say, "If you could do what you wanted today, what would it be?"
And I would tell him, even though I know he's just doing one of his fancy therapy tricks to help me get my brain and motivation back on track, because no matter how aggravated I am that I have to do this stupid routine, I want to be better, to continue healing, and to learn how to comfortably have relationships or die trying. Right now the "die trying" part seems more likely.