Posted in Anxiety and Experience

What Tubing Taught Me About Control

I find water in all its forms (lakes, rivers, rain, puddles, waterfalls) to be comforting and calming. I grew up on the water, always swimming and kayaking in the river by my cabin or at local lakes. However, I have not experienced being on a tube while floating on a river since I was a kid, years before I was diagnosed with a panic disorder. Since it is summer time and I enjoy river outings, I figured I would give it a shot and I learned quite a lot about myself and my anxiety along the way.

This trip in total without any stops would take roughly 3.5 hours to complete. I fet relatively comfortable because I knew what to expect and had packed accordingly. I made sure to have all of the belongings that I wanted with me in a waterproof pouch so as to avoid any mishaps if I fell in or something got wet. I made sure to pack food and beverages to snack on along the way. I had lathered myself in sunscreen, put on my bathing suit, and was on my way.

What I had not taken into consideration since I am so used to being on a kayak in the river, is that when you are on a tube you cannot steer yourself. You have to kind of give yourself over to the river and go with the flow, which meant that I was constantly having to push off of trees, I was floating backwards and unable to see where I was going, and I would get stuck on rocks and logs that were hard to see in the water.

I had not realized just how out of control I would be on this trip and I had to learn to just sit back and enjoy the ride because it was just me and this tube floating on the river for the next 3 hours. I could not turn back and change my mind. I had to learn to cope on the spot and make the best of it. So I settled in, I opened a beverage, I let my hands and feet dangle in the water, and tried to go with the flow.

Now I will say that I enjoyed myself on this trip. Water to me is therapy. I find the sounds and smells comforting and calming. I enjoyed seeing the water pads with lilies on the sides of the river. I enjoyed seeing birds flying above me. I relished in the moments that the bridges and trees shaded me from the sun and gave me a moment to cool down.

However, I also realized that though I made it through this adventure and had fun along the way, the next river trip I do I will definitely prefer to be in a kayak. It is good to step outside of your comfort zone so that you can learn new things about yourself.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

PTSD and Me: Triggers

*Trigger Warning: this post is going to discuss mental health and disorders, and potentially triggering descriptions of physical abuse. Please read at your own discretion**
Roughly 4 years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, along with also having a panic disorder and Agoraphobia. What exactly is PTSD? Most commonly known due to soldiers coming back from the war “shell shocked”, people are frequently intrigued to discover that it is not just war that can trigger PTSD.
PTSD is defined as:

post-trau·mat·ic stress dis·or·der

noun: post-traumatic stress disorder;

noun: post-traumatic stress syndrome

  1. a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.

And for inquiring minds, Agoraphobia is defined as:

ag·o·ra·pho·bi·a

noun
  1. extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.

My diagnosis came after several events that occurred in my life, some mental and some physical, that left lasting impressions on me such as physical and mental abuse. While the event that I will be discussing is not the initial reason that I was diagnosed with PTSD, after going through counseling and researching my condition thoroughly, I have learned how to spot some of my triggers when other traumatic events have occurred.

One event in particular stands out because every single time I smell oranges, my mind is brought right back to the events that occurred. Let me take you on a journey through one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. I worked as a temporary para pro in a disability classroom, working one on one with a Deaf and autistic student. This student was nonverbal, had very low communication abilities with sign language, and was prone to outbursts of rage where they would tear apart books, rip back packs in half, rip bookshelves down, and if allowed to become frustrated enough would self harm by punching their head and face. I was well aware of the risks involved when working with this type of student and felt equipped to handle the task.

However, I did not realize that constantly being on edge and wondering if/when the student would lash out had put me in a constant state of fight or flight. At least once a day help was needed to be called because the student was a threat to themselves and/or others. The one thing that seemed to calm them down almost instantly though was oranges. They loved to sit and smell the orange peels, pick and stab their thumb nails into the peel, and eat the fruit. The mix of the citrus smell and the texture of the peel was calming to the student. So in the midst of trying to calm this student down, dealing with the screaming/hitting/biting/object throwing, etc. I also found myself peeling open oranges, getting the citrus peel under my nails, and squirting my shirt with droplets of juice.

One day, however, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of coaxing or soothing I did would settle the student. They became so enraged that when I went to hand them orange slices, they grabbed me by my arm and ripped me across their desk, spraining my shoulder. I was so shocked and so desperate to get out of harms way that I did not even notice I had damaged my shoulder until the adrenaline rush wore off. I ended up in a sling and had to go to physical therapy for a few weeks.

I do not blame the student. That was a risk that is always present when working in that sort of environment. However, no matter how much rationalizing I use, when I smell or taste oranges, my mind goes right back to that classroom. I can still see the students wild eyes as I stood across the table from them. I can still feel their hands on my arm as they dragged me across that table. I can be sitting on my couch at home, peeling an orange for breakfast, completely safe and sound. But my mind will still be flashing back to a time when I felt absolutely terrified. That is PTSD.

Posted in Anxiety and Experience

Hello Coffee,

I delicately blow on the steam rising from my mug before taking a tentative sip, letting the burning liquid slide across my tongue and swirl around before I swallow. Gripping the mug with one hand, a distraction to keep me from picking at my fingers. A moment of silence, giving me time to think and collect my words before I am forced to respond. Getting my thoughts together, calming my racing pulse, and another tentative sip. Drinking is not out of character for me. They will not notice that my mind is racing, so long as I grip this mug and sip this amber liquid, able to get away with being quiet while drinking this liquid, under the guise of being tired. One sip, a sigh, another blow on the steam. I am able to focus on the feel of the mug, the smooth texture underneath my thumb as I grip the bottom. Focus on the feel of the warm liquid touching my lips, my tongue, and sliding down my throat. Count the bubbles that were created by the cream.

Voices swirl around me, laughter and jokes, yet I sit here stone cold. Withdrawn. A fake smirk plastered on my lips. My voice comes out as almost a whisper, raspy, and controlled. Every word heavy on my tongue. One deep breath, followed by another, in through the nose and out through the mouth. One sip, followed by another, the liquid slowly warming me up from the inside out. I sip and I stew, swirling the liquid in my mug as the thoughts turn over and over in my mind. I pull at the liquid, every drop, until I have drained the mug of its contents. The empty bottom reminding me of just how hollow I feel.