Sunday afternoon. A very hot Sunday afternoon. I decide to head to the beach with some of my familia.
As we got to the exit on the freeway, I was envisioning that I would only have to make two right turns off of the freeway and we would be on our way to the beach. I have gotten off of that exit and made those two right turns thousands of times.
On this Sunday, however, there was construction all over the place and, instead of doing my two right turns, I would have to venture into another very familiar neighborhood, in order to get to my desired street thru town. As soon as I drove onto that very familiar street, I started doing something that I just do not do EVER: I started biting my nails and biting the skin on the sides my nails. I said nothing as I “calmly” got the car thru town and to the street I needed to get to. As we were driving, my sister asked me how close were we to his house. Turns out that we were two or three blocks away. Sooooo much had happened within that 3-block radius. Every time I think that I’m over it, something random takes place to remind me that, while I’m good, I’ve got a little way to go.
As sisters do, this girl noticed my sudden and almost-vicious biting of the nails a few moments before. I was just as surprised as she was and remember saying, “I never do this, huh?!” I was physically reacting to some of the crazyass things that went down on those very streets, when I still felt powerless, dressed in misery, trying to act like all was normal and ok. Only thru counseling was I able to discover that PTSD is real. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can hit anytime, anyplace, or any way. These are called PTSD Episodes. People associate PTSD with being in combat or in prison. I may not have been in the military at war but fight a battle I have, and I may not have been incarcerated but I never felt free until I started dealing with my life. Everyone experiences PTSD in a different way.
The symptoms can include scary nightmares, flashbacks or dissociation (acting/thinking as if you are living the trauma all over again), you might worry that you are going crazy. The problem is not that you are crazy. Rather, the problem is that you have anxiety because of a traumatic event that you have experienced. (Anxiety BC: Self-Help Strategies)
PTSD and Anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety is a normal and adaptive system in the body that tells us when we are in danger. This means that dealing with your anxiety NEVER involves eliminating it, but rather managing it. Anxiety can become a problem when our body tells us that there is danger when there is no real danger. (Anxiety BC: Self-Help Strategies)
Where I could usually get thru a PTSD episode by crying, writing in my journal, saying things like “calmate, todo esta bien” or asking GodJesusVirgenOfG for help; I did NOT want to ruin the mood or frighten my TorresBabies who were all excited to be on a road trip with their Nina. I guess that, unconsciously, my stress and discomfort had to come out SOME way.
There are 5 strategies for getting yourself back together when this type of anxiety hits:
#1: Learning to calm anxiety by slowing down your breathing
#2: Learning how to calm your anxiety by relaxing the muscles in
#3: Grounding techniques
#4: Getting back into your life
#5: Facing your fears
Calming down and breathing deeply will help you immensely if you are in levels #1 and #2.
I was, however, in level #3 during this episode and the best thing is to ground yourself: keep your eyes open, focus on the present, and describe where you are, what you see, what you feel at that moment: I was driving, eyes open, felt my hands on the wheel, the sound of the turn signal, the color of the red light when I was stopped, the color of the green light as I moved forward, the sound of the GPS chick telling me where I should turn. I know the area very well yet felt the need to put on the GPS to navigate out of there as soon as possible, breathe, breathe, breathe. I could feel my mind and body struggling for those eternal 10 minutes. My fingers were in pain after I tried to chew them off minutes before. It was a trip to watch myself try to eat them off. Should an episode happen to you, however you decide to ground yourself, remember to take in and describe everything around you at that moment. Just taking stock will calm you immensely.
Once I got to the beach and helped get everyone situated. I went straight to the edge of that beach, put my feet into that water, felt the cool water calming me down, watched and felt the waves go back and forth, breathed in the ocean air, and got myself right again. Thank you GodJesusVirgenOfG.
It’s been all about lotion on my hands today to soothe the rough parts and cuts. I’ve also spent the day counting my blessings. Here’s to learning how to face my fears. It’s easier and less painful than trying to chew my fingers off.