Tag Archives | PTSD

5 Reasons Why PTSD Makes You Pretty Much a Badass.


So I moved back to North Carolina! Yeah! And sorry for the swear word in the title, but it was the shortest choice as “super amazing totally awesome completely friggin’ rad” didn’t fit.

And I’ve found myself in the position of being Googled as I go on dates with new people, apply for jobs (both “real” and freelance), and begin my life in a new place. And as I’ve written about it, it’s pretty darn public. And I did something I never thought I would do, I took down the page for my Voices of PTSD Quilt because I was ashamed and embarrassed for anyone to find it. Because as we all know, that’s like instant death to whatever opportunity may come your way, because the other person to hire and date doesn’t have that mark against them. So there goes your résumé in the trash or your profile unmessaged.

But you know what? Because I have PTSD does not make me some live wire about to blow. Or some liability. Because once I was diagnosed, I had to walk through fire in order to deal with something that most people haven’t (and should never have to) deal with. Treatment entails diving into trauma and working through it, instead of avoiding it. And because of that, I am a damn good horse to bet on. And so is anyone else who stands up and fights to win over their demons, no matter what they be: alcoholism, PTSD, childhood trauma, or whathaveyou.

But the media likes to make you think that we’re all walking grenades ready to unbolster your safe, sweet life. However, the truth is we’re probably just like you, except that something that some of you have nightmares about has actually happened to us. And we came out the other side. Veterans have it the worst, because there are some people out there waiting for them to go all Rambo, when, in fact, I know from loving and growing up with some of them, that no one wants peace more than a soldier. Peace for this planet. Peace from being asked what they have done or seen. Peace from people thinking that they are “crazy.”

So, in order to counteract that “crazy” label, here are 5 things that people who have been treated for PTSD (for those that haven’t been treated, get thee to therapy, so you, too, can be a badass!) are great at:

1. SUPER HELLA AMAZING IN A CRISIS: Because bad things have happened to us, we are weirdly good when not-so-good things happen. We may need a little time to properly process it all afterwards, but who doesn’t?

2. WE -for reals- DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF: Because unless a crisis is actually happening, everything is either fixable or workthroughable. Therefore, we don’t tend to complain over dumb stuff that really doesn’t matter like a rip in our jeans or the weatherman being wrong or traffic. Why? Because it’s not a crisis. Everyone is safe. Therefore, there is literally no reason to complain.

3. WE DON’T TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED: Because we’ve seen shit go down, while others have just worried about it going down. So all the good things? They are literally little miracles happening before us every minute! A hand to hold, a sunny day, a diner cup of coffee- they’re all outstanding. In fact, you may even be amazed at all the things you take for granted when you hang out with us. Don’t be surprised if your attitude changes after being around us for a little while, for the better.

4. WE ARE SAFE SPACES FOR YOUR PAIN: Because we may have seen bad things, we won’t tell you to eat/ignore/run away from your pain. We will sit with you while you cry. We will hug you with giant bear hugs. We will not tell anyone your secrets. And we will not judge you for what you’ve been through or how you reacted to it. We will be there for you both in your darkness and when you come back from it- no matter it that takes 10 minutes or 10 years. We will be there no matter what.

5. WE KNOW HOW TO LOVE YOU FULLY: Because we have seen what happens when love isn’t all around us. It may take us longer to show our true selves, but we will show up like few have shown up before. We will fight for you and make you laugh and not being afraid to hold your hand, because of all the reason above. The only drawback? Is that some of you who haven’t seen bad things may not be able to understand why we are so open. But since we have truly seen the dark, we know without a doubt that the flipside is real, too. And therefore, we know that each moment is to be cherished, taken stock of, and marveled at.

For the 5 people that have read this far… Thank you. I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day because even though I am single, my heart is still full. Because my heart is open and ready and present. And can’t wait to meet more hearts that are the same. So if you know someone who is scared because they have been through a trauma or have PTSD or something else kinda terrifying, please show them this. This list of things that will make them more aware of goodness and love than most people.

Instead of thinking that I am unlucky, I choose to think that I am one of the luckiest. Because I’ve walked through fire and come out the other side with my heart still open and ready for all the good the world has to bring. And that, that is a triumph, instead of a drawback. So if you’ve Googled me and thought the other person is a safer bet, fine.

But, in not picking me, you’ll miss out on all I bring to the table. And that’s your choice, that’s okay. I’ll just keep trying until my people find me, because I know damn well that when they do, we’re going to live the heck of our time together no matter what the relationship. And that’s worth waiting for. And even though I won’t be waiting and twiddling my thumbs for you, I’ll be living full steam and super excited when you get here to join the journey.

You, Me, and the PTSD: Relationships, Feeling, and PTSD

December 27, 2012: I posted this last week, and then, er, took it offline because I wanted the time to tell my family about what was going on… And did so. Thanks to those of you who have sent lovely emails and comments regarding this post! x

January 22, 2013: Reposting this because the above took the ability for people to leave comments away… Which I was emailed about. Thus, posting it this time and leaving it be… x

To say I’ve done more crying in the past year than any other year would be both the total truth and a total lie. A lie, because I’ve cried many, many times a year for many, many years. The truth, because I’ve cried many, many times this year. Like when I’m watching television and a not-even-very-interesting-ad comes on featuring a really dumb animated staple or choosing which soup to buy at the grocery store or when I’m just walking down the street thinking about nothing. I find tears streaming down my face and suddenly I’m trying to wipe them away quickly before anyone notices. In fact, I cried not too long ago to Top 40 radio while in an airport shuttle van with 2 strangers.

One minute I was fine and, then one catchy hook later, I was a blubbering mess. I texted a friend and asked, “WTF is wrong with me?!” She said I should put on my sunglasses and maybe they’ll think I just broke up with my boyfriend. If only it was that simple.

But, no, it was stupider than that. Way stupider. I was crying because I felt the lyrics. Like, felt them, like had emotion. I can’t even remember what song it was, it was probably Justin Bieber or something else vaguely vomit inducing. See, for most of you, you know what it feels like to feel. The touch of someone’s hand, a brush against a tree branch, the soft down of a fluffy puppy, the warm solace of a cup of coffee. I mean, I’d feel all those things, but it would be like there was still some sort of barrier between us. It was never quite authentic and to the bone; there was always something not quite right.

As I wake up this year it’s like someone flipped a switch just underneath my skin. Or like I just took off a protective suit. Welcome to PTSD, where things get buried and hidden and closed off and protected and are worn away until there is nothing left of the real you. The “you” before. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be like, except there was never really a “before” for me, just a slow awakening to the idea that something wasn’t right. Unlike many traumas, mine was no one’s fault. It happened when I was so little that there was never a “before” or an “after.” Just a weird life where I never really understood what people meant by feeling things.

So, it was no surprise that it wasn’t until I found knitting that something changed. A complete shift, in fact, as I noticed the tactile and began to focus on positive choices instead of negative ones. Why? Because something about the feeling felt good and made me feel less, well, dead inside. Funny how we can’t feel so we drown out the confusion and hurt and anger with various substances. And, subsequently, we make it much much worse. But we lie to ourselves and say that we really can feel while under these substances, and suddenly that fake sense of feeling becomes what we think is “real” feeling and life gets turned upside down.

Fake becomes real, because fake is better than nothing. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. Repeatedly eating that as truth instead of seeing that it’s like using a mop to soak up a flood… Because the real goodness, the real feeling isn’t being unearthed, it’s simply being chased after without any progress. Because in order to get to the real feeling, you have to do a lot of digging first to set it free.

It was through knitting and making that any connection at all became even remotely possible. (Leading me to discover that something was wrong in the first place.) I could feel the yarn run through my fingers because my anxiety was down. Depending on which yarn I used, I could feel it sliding through my fingers easily or scratching them a bit as it flowed through them. As knitting brought me directly into the middle of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow,” there was peace. I could feel because I wasn’t worried about what would happen if everyone knew what was wrong with me.

That I was the girl who couldn’t feel correctly, whether it was a sip of coffee or a kitten or a kiss. This deep dark secret that made friends look at me weird if I told them, that made romantic relationships miserable and fraught with anxiety and disaster and panic, and that, at its very worst, made people feel sorry or pity for me because I was so very unlike everyone else. A freakshow. A weirdo. An alien lost among the normal ones.

Until this year, when I was diagnosed with PTSD. When all of this made sense, and I was no longer alone and weird, and I was “found” and weird, as there were others who had the same thing or at least had researched others (other freakshows?) that had the same thing. Okay, so maybe I was hella weird, but at least I wasn’t hella weird alone. That’s got to be better, right? Right!??!
I devoured books like Michele Rosenthal’s Before the World Intruded (in the hopes of discovering a similar story), Robert Scaer’s The Body Bears the Burden (to figure out WTF was wrong with my body), Diane England’s The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship (to figure out WTF was wrong with my inability to keep a relationship), Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger (because at this point I was ready to just give up and accept life as a freakshow), along with looking at various online forums (ptsdforum.org) and reading a heap of info online about veterans and PTSD.

But I’m not a veteran, so I had to strip out anything related to combat and just let it all sink in that this was really happening. That there really was a problem. That it wasn’t just my mind. It was everything. How I looked at the world through PTSD glasses, how I felt the world through my special invisible suit of numbness, how I related to people because I felt they couldn’t possibly ever “get” me. Ever. Ever. Ever.

The biggest bummer of all was how insidiously embarrassing it all was. I couldn’t feel, I was chronically hopeless at relationships, I was getting older, and was pretty sure I was going crazy. I had this weird horrible sounding thing that made me feel separate from the entire world and brought hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, anger, and crappiest of all, numbness. It was like being trapped in cotton wool, unable to see an exit while having a panic attack trying to find one. A mid-range type of hell that still kept me with a pretty intact sense of sarcasm and humor, except there was no one else that actually had lived the really rough stuff. No one that said, “I get it.”

So, after spending decades of being numb and feeling alone, I now had a “disorder” that made me feel more alone, more numb, more depressed, more anxious, and more lame than I had ever felt before. (Are you freaking kidding me?!) And this was before you got to the inappropriate crying, 8 million apologies, and occasional random meltdown. I was beginning to see why either a) no one wrote about this stuff or b) everyone that did was firmly in a long-term relationship. I.e., it’s not attractive. However, eventually, I found that with a little extra time and deep breathing, old meltdowns became opportunities for open-hearted honesty and the tears became space in which life was fully lived. (The over-apologizing I’m still working on.)

Then, in a sense, I weirdly began to fully lucky, i.e., how many people know what it’s like to fully crack your heart open and fully connect with not just other humans, but also everything you come in contact with from coffee to q-tips? Now, if I love you, I will tell you instead of worrying about whether you will say it back because I am so ecstatic to feel such joy; I will fully listen because I’m so happy to feel in your presence; and I will fully cry with you when you’re hurting because I can feel the pain. Not because I’m any different, but because I truly know what it’s like to feel nothing, I am in love with all that I can feel now.

So, then, with all this, what’s a girl to do? I think the first thing that girl is to do is to share. Because the first lesson I’ve learned about thinking that you’re the only one, is that that is never the case. There is always someone else. And in this case, there are thousands of someone elses, most of them also feeling trapped and freakshow-y and terrified.

But, wait.

Why am I writing about this here? Because it’s also related to craft and activism, to craft, because it is a reminder how the tactile can be healing; to activism, because, it’s creating awareness to something that probably someone you know has. Think they do? Then share this. Why? Because they’re probably feeling broken and alone and scared and terrified and like no one on this planet could possibly ever understand them. But they’re wrong.

When I first wrote about this, I was terrified to be sharing so much about something so personal. However, eventually you get to a point where that doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is letting someone else in your position feel less alone. That’s one of the tenets of craftivism, sharing your opinion on something in a crafty (or in this case, creative (writing)) way. About taking what’s inside and putting it outside for others to see it, ask questions, form their own opinions… and if you’re lucky, learn a bit.

Happily, I’ve come much farther in my fight to feel, to be “normal,” to connect in ways that have been near impossible for many years. I can feel the wrinkles in the hands I hold, feel the warmth of that puppy’s belly and its heart beating under its chest, and most awesomely, I can now really feel the rain. The way it trickles down my arms over tiny hairs and creases in my elbows; splashes against my face and down my eyelids; and weighs down my hair with each teeny tiny drop. And it feels delicious.

These days, I welcome the tears that come down my face and don’t worry about the sunglasses; I embrace them because each one means that I’m feeling more and more as time goes on. That my heart is breaking open as time passes on. That, finally, not am I not just the only one, I am
becoming one of the “normal” ones.

The Possibilities of Futuristic Textiles/Creativity (and Healing, too?)

What I love most about working with textiles is that sometimes I get asked to do some pretty amazing things. The other week I was asked to hold a day workshop at V2_ in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, later on this year, where they are working on some amazingly incredible and inspiring things, some of them you can see in the videos below. To check out all other videos from V2, go check out their comprehensive and vast video archive over here:

Ultimaker Masterclass (2011) from V2_ on Vimeo.

Wearable Urban Routine-Xiaowen Zhu (2011) from V2_ on Vimeo.

Momentum by Xandra van der Eijk (2011) from V2_ on Vimeo.

I’ve kicked around some ideas of what I’d like to do, but am not sure exactly what yet. My first idea out of the box deals with making a garment (first thought: a vest) that uses conductive threads to simulate the wearer being given a hug. While it would specifically aid those who isolate themselves due to PTSD (see last post) and/or other anxiety/psychiatric disorders, it would also be pretty darn cool. In a perfect world, there would be a way to use the conductive threads in such a way that one person somewhere with a computer could effectively “hug” the other wearing the vest knitted with conductive thread.

And ever so brilliant upon hearing this idea, Mr. X Stitch, suggested that I make a vest using conductive threads and heat sensors that show where someone has given you a hug.

Early days yet, but I’m thinking there will be something going on that relates to hugs, knitting and conductivity in late November. After all, seeing that hugs and knitting are two of my very favorite things, I can think of nothing more fun to work with!

And speaking of mental health and craft, there is a lovely post here over at Resurgence about the connection between the two.

Therapeutic Craft, Creativity and Healing

So, astute observers may have noticed a change in the description of “what I do/talk about, etc.” either over on my About page or on my Twitter profile. It’s a little tweak, a change, reflecting a more recent diagnosis for me. I’m not going to lie, those 4-effin-words-put-together-in-a-row are some scary shit. They’ve been going around my head for 3 weeks now, like a horse riding a ring, wondering what this means, if things will change, if people will think I’m totally effin’ insane.

And with that change, comes the deletion to talking about “war” and the addition of talking about IT instead, because while personally (thankfully) I have never been in a war, I have known those affected by war my entire life. My issues stem from a different root, but show up and present themselves in much the same ways. Truth be told, those definitions in the last link are being changed in the next version of the DSM, changes you can read about here. What happened to me is not something I feel like I need to share, but I do want to clearly and seriously state that what happened happened almost 30 years ago and no one from my family hurt me (again, thankfully). Not thankfully, there was something else that happened by someone else that made it all worse about 20 years ago. (YES!) And I’m writing this because I think it’s important to note how important craft and creativity was for me in my life.

Over the past 6 months, while this has all been a work in progress, I’ve learned a lot about its various causes; the criticisms of it; the arguments about who has it and who doesn’t; the stereotypes… some good, some bad. Ultimately, what it runs down to is: child + incident + brain/emotional development = weird problems (hypervigilance, freezing, panic attacks, avoidance) that no one knew what the heck to do about. Because this happened SO LONG AGO and no one knew what it was, I’ve dealt with all of the symptoms above because I had no choice. And today, I’m the same person I was 3 weeks ago, and for the past 10 years.

What made the difference in reducing many of my symptoms was craft. While I thought it just alleviated my depression and anxiety, it relieved something much more than that. It helped me re-syncopate and live, really. It helped me find a rhythm in the stitches that brought solace and understanding of myself that no one could ever bring. And it’s not just knitting, not just craft, but creativity. Giving myself permission to create was what opened up the doors to let bad things rush in and wreak havoc and do their worse. In short, the stitches, the freedom to create them, the freedom to mess them up, the freedom to see how time passed as my scarf/hat/sweater grew longer, gave me a safe space. They provided a safety that I never would have guessed if I had never picked up the needles. They provided the kindest type of safety I have ever known.

I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone, because it’s not. However, I’m writing this because I wonder what would happen if we took creativity’s power more seriously. If we let those whom are sick and unsure and scared and alone create more, give them the permission to make a mess, try something new, be imperfect. If we let them dive into the imperfection that illness can bring through creativity; allowing them to unleash in a number of mediums until one makes more sense than the others. I say this, not as a therapist, or a doctor, but as someone who never takes it for granted when I find myself walking down the street without constantly looking over my shoulder for a possible threat, as someone who can be brought to tears of joy that they can feel the wind down to their bones, and as someone who is ever grateful to have found craft as an outlet in which to help keep me here, alive, well, and most of all, happy.

Who could we make happy, too, if we took the powers of creativity more seriously?

Here are a few links related to therapeutic knitting, as it was knitting that I first found as an outlet:

Lovely cartoon (!!!) called “Therapy Knitting.”

Stitchlinks: a whole dang website about therapeutic craft.

Knitting as Healing Therapy

More on therapeutic knitting by Betsan Corkhill, the founder of Stitchlinks

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