One Potato, Two Potato… A Tale of a Temper Flare

It was such a small thing. It was no big deal. So, I dropped the potato on the floor. So it slipped out of my hand and got away from me. I didn’t really need to flip out and slam the potato peelings into the trash can and curse a blue streak. I didn’t need to startle my partner and frighten them with the intensity of my reaction.

But from the way I lashed out after I dropped the potato, you’d think it was a huge deal. My temper flare was totally out of proportion to what happened, and I was totally unable to stop it. And that’s what drives me crazy.

Once again, I have overreacted extremely to a seemingly minor annoyance, turning a proverbial molehill into a mountain — no, a volcano. My partner is steering clear of me for a while, till I simmer down. My blood is pounding in my ears, I’m sweating like I’ve just run a hundred yard dash, and my head is spinning with the sudden crash of waves of unexpected emotion on my once-staid interior. Dinner might turn out okay, but the evening is pretty much ruined.

And I am humiliated.

It started out so simply. I had a long day at work, and I was looking forward to just chilling out, making my signature dish for supper — meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green peas. I don’t have the biggest cooking repertoire, and my partner usually does the cooking, but for some reason I make a killer meatloaf. After the long day I’ve had — no, a long week — tonight I need some serious comfort food.

I had intended to take off early and get home at a decent hour, but I got tied up at work with some last-minute things I needed to take care of. Running later than expected, I called my partner to say I was running behind, then did some shopping on my way. I picked up the 93% lean ground beef, egs and milk, and some extra celery, then waded through late-rush-hour traffic, and finally got home. Not bothering to change out of my work clothes, I rolled up my sleeves, chopped and mixed and patted together a pink loaf of beefy joy that would soon enough brown to perfection. I was running behind where I had hoped I’d be, but in another hour and a half, all would be well.

While the meatloaf was cooking, I turned my attention to the potatoes, and I suddenly remembered I’d intended to pick up some fresh spuds at the grocery store. A sudden flare of irritation rose in me, but as I picked through the potatoes we did have on hand, I found enough that were still in good enough shape to eat. As I rinsed them under cold water and shaved off their skins, I was having trouble hanging onto them. I could tell I was pretty tired from the day. The oblong shapes were slippery in my hands and I had to really concentrate at keeping hold of them, when I didn’t have rough potato skin to grip for traction. The peeling knife was slippery in my hands, too, and I struggled a bit with carving out the eyes and removing skin from tight crevices and wrinkles in the flesh.

As I turned away from the sink with one of the skinless tubers in my hand, suddenly it jumped from my grip. I tried to catch it as I felt it slide from between my fingers, but it escaped and landed with a thud on the linoleum and skittered away from me, as though it had a will of its own.

In an instant, my whole system was flooded with a sudden cascade of intense emotion. I could feel the blood rise in me, an adrenaline cocktail of volatile biochemicals boiling up at a moment’s notice, and I saw red for a split second. I felt something vicious in me coil and uncork like a thunderclap, and all I wanted to do was stab that fucking potato with the peeler I was wielding. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself stab it viciously, without hesitation or remorse, till it lay in shredded fragments before me.

“FUCK!” I fumed. “GODDAMN IT TO FUCKING HELL. MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” I cursed the tuber. The unnamed thing that had coiled and unsprung inside me started to thrash, like a wild animal caged and prodded with an electrical probe. My gut churned with fierce lust for vengeance, and my head suddenly cleared of everything but a cold, cold drive to annihilate. Reaching for the nearest thing, I snatched up a handful of potato peelings from the sink and slammed them into the nearby trash can. Some of the peels slipped from between my fingers, and I pounced on them like a ravenous predator. I dropped to my knees — work clothes and all — and with tightly closed fist, I pounded them on the floor, as the inside of my head roared with rage. “STAY THERE, YOU GODDAMNED COCKSUCKING PIECE OF SHIT,” I hissed at the inert piece of vegetable peel. “DON’T FUCKING MOVE.

The potato peel obliged me and lay still on the floor in front of me. The inside of my head howled with frustration and rage, and I snatched up the offending object and threw it violently in the trash atop the rest of the peelings. My breath was heavy and ragged, and my torso was tracked with rivulets of sweat that descended from my chest and armpits to my belt. The whole kitchen seemed to shift and sway before me, and the overhead light became unbearably bright.

Behind me, I heard a sound, and my partner appeared in the doorway.

“Are you alright?” they asked, as I picked myself up off the floor and crossed the room to pick up the potato that had slipped from my grasp.

“I’m fine,” I muttered, as I snatched up the maverick spud and turned back to the sink to rinse it off. The rage that had torn through me just moments before suddenly receded with the presence of another person in the room. The part of me that knew that losing my grip on this slippery vegetable didn’t warrant the firestorm I’d unleashed perked up and pulled me back from the brimstone brink of my outrage.

I felt my partner’s eyes on me, but I couldn’t make eye contact. Their gaze followed me back to the sink, with an all-too-familiar sense of apprehension and defensiveness. This was not the first time I’d blown up after a long day at work, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be the last. I could feel the recrimination in their eyes — What are you getting so upset about? Why did you freak out over just dropping the potato? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so … violent? I knew all the questions, but I didn’t know the answer. All I knew was, I had been overcome by a wave of emotional overreaction that — once again — had blindsided me and reduced me to a big baby — pitching a fit over some stupid little thing and making me look like a raving maniac. For nothing.

As I ran water over the potato and I nearly lost my grip again, another smaller wave of anger welled up in me, but I held it back. I could feel my partner’s eyes still on me, watching to make sure I wasn’t going to get out of hand and break something. I’ve broken things in the past, slammed things, thrown things – the cracked dustpan that we keep in plain view in the kitchen is a constant reminder of how intensely my temper can flare, and how violently I can become as a result.They needed to make sure I wasn’t going to wreck anything in the kitchen.

Again.

I willed myself to act as though I were once more calm, and as I systematically went through the motions of cutting the last remaining potato into quarters, my partner’s wary curiosity was satisfied, and they disappeared again into the living room. Quiet… they were quiet in that way they get when they’re afraid of me and unsure about how the rest of the evening is going to go. I was quiet, too, willing my system to chill and not radiate the white heat of unprovoked rage that my partner can instinctively sense.

But though I seemed fine on the outside, inside part of me was still writhing. Still smarting. The crash of the rage felt like it had cracked something in me… as though a heavy anvil had fallen onto my foot, cracking and breaking bones… bones I needed so I could walk the rest of the way through my day. Something in me felt bruised and battered, but the hurt had come from inside my system, not outside me. And I had been defenseless against it. If the attack had come from someone or something beyond my own skin, I might have been able to defend myself. But this attack came from the inside, and it hurt as much as if I’d been jumped in an alley and beaten by thugs.

Yes, this attack had come from inside. From the depths of my being, the core of my character. At least that’s how it felt. I felt damaged and inept. Useless and beyond help. My insides felt sick and worried. All this drama over a little potato… All this rage over some stupid couple of minutes of me losing my grip… in more ways than one. “What’s wrong with me?” I wondered “Why can’t I deal with something that simple? My partner doesn’t seem to have this problem. Why do I?

Keeping quiet, keeping to myself, I adjusted the setting of the burner beneath the boiling potatoes and headed upstairs to change my clothes. The best I could hope for, was that my meatloaf would redeem me, and that the food I was preparing would be more comfort for the one I loved, than my own self was, that night.

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A Perilous Relief : Because Extreme Duress Makes Me Feel Better

Thinking back over the course of my life, to all those times when I pushed myself, stretched myself, and in some cases really punished myself to get to a goal, I can see discernable patterns in my behavior:

  • I am presented with a variety of choices about people and activities and jobs.
  • Some of the choices are positive, pleasant, benign.
  • Other choices are more challenging, distasteful, and carry the threat of some ultimate negative consequence.
  • I know I have positive, pro-active options available to me, but time and again — against my better judgment and experience — I choose the lesser of the options and plunge myself into yet more chaos.
  • Sometimes things go well, and I reap the rewards for overcoming the challenge.
  • But other times, I burn out, flame out, crash and burst into a veritable brilliant fireball that can be seen for miles.
  • Friends, family, coworkers all scratch their heads and puzzle at my poor decision-making, my risk-taking and danger-seeking behavior that endangers my professional reputation and my social and financial viability.

I’ve been puzzling and puzzling over these patterns of mine for the longest time, trying to figure out why I’ve apparently been unable to learn from my past mistakes… always thinking, this time will be different… but it never is — it actually gets worse. Given my life experience, my intimate knowledge of my limits, and my determined commitment to self-care and peak performance, there is no way I should be doing these kinds of things and making these kinds of “mistakes” over and over. I’m not an idiot. I know better. I’m not mentally ill (from all indications 😉 and I always start out with the best of intentions.

What’s the attraction of danger? What’s the allure of risk? I’m not the kind of person who seeks out thrills and chills — I hate suspense movies and I shudder at the thought of skydiving or rock climbing — even with ropes. What’s wrong with me, that I continuously put my own professional and social well-being on the line, time after time? Am I addicted to adrenaline? Am I hopelessly brain-damaged, thanks to my multiple tbi’s? Is there some fundamental flaw in me that seeks out its own destruction, time after time, and wants to secretly destroy all the progress I’ve made over the years?

What about emotional issues? You might ask… I ask myself the same thing, at times. I have been known to keep busy-busy-busy to keep my mind off painful or uncomfortable thoughts. But I have dealt with a lot of my personal issues that used to get in the way, and it’s been years since I genuinely wanted to run from myself. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol. I am not running willy-nilly from old ghosts like I used to, and I’ve dealt with many emotional and psychological aspects of my past in a productive and definitive way.

Well, then, what about being addicted to an adrenaline high?1 I’m not sure how that’s possible. I don’t crave thrills like skydiving and freestyle skiing. I’m not fond of courting danger – like some of my siblings do. The very idea of taking extreme chances makes my blood cool. I’m a homebody who likes a quiet life. I’d rather curl up with a good white paper on cutting-edge neurological research than go mountain biking in the Grand Canyon around sunset.

So, why the hell do I do these stupid-ass things, time and again? What is it — really — that makes me make such risky social and professional choices and screw up so dramatically on such a regular basis?

In stepping back from my personal perspective, looking at all the objective data about my life, and then thinking about not only the things that went wrong, but the things that went right while things were going wrong, I’ve realized I actually feel better when I’m under a lot of stress and strain. And the higher the intensity of my stress experience, the better I feel.

I believe, based on my own observations about my life, that beyond the most obvious components in in my decision-making process, there’s something else at work. Something not cognitive, not emotional, not psychological, but something physical. Could it be that risk-taking / danger-seeking behavior meets a basic, fundamental physiological need in me which persists in spite of better judgment and deliberately broken bad habits? Could there be something about the experience of dangerous risk that – rather than boosting me into a super-human experience – supports me in having a normal human experience?

I’ve gradually come to realize (after untold hours of reflection and consideration and painstaking — and sometimes maddening — rehashing of patterns and details) that I need stress in order to function properly. I don’t seek it out in order to pump up an already fully functional system. I seek it out in order to bring a struggling system up to par, so I can participate normally in the world and have the kind of regular life that other people take for granted.

Not being in the same room with you, I can only guess at your reaction. But I suspect it’s one of skepticism and incredulity. Why on earth would someone need stress, in order to function? Why would they need to take risks and seek out danger, in order to live a normal life? Isn’t this a little… hyperbolic?

Since you’re not in the same room as me, and you aren’t privy to my personal experience, I’m not sure I can explain this exactly. But I’ll try…

1 Note: From where I’m sitting, using the common “addicted to thrills” metaphor implies that the high you’re getting is not necessarily something you need. It’s superfluous, it starts out as recreational, then you develop an irrational need for it, a destructive need for it. The terms “adrenaline junkie” and “addicted to thrills” carry pejorative connotations, as well, which I feel are not very helpful in understanding this phenomenon.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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ptsd & mild tbi

I haven’t posted for a few days, and I’m feeling remiss. Very, very tired… but also remiss.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the connections between ptsd and mild tbi, and sure enough, someone found this blog using this combo of words.

I’m probably too tired to come up with anything useful at this point, but I do want to say this: having a mild tbi can be extremely traumatic. And in my experience, it induces post-traumatic stress by heightening your perceptions of danger… and at times causing the body to over-respond to perceived threats… thereby flooding your system with fight-or-fight red-bull-type biochemicals which do a number on your nervous system.

And if your nervous system — which has two parts, the sympathetic, which gets you going, and the parasympathetic, which gets you chilled out — keeps pumped up all the the time, the part of it that’s supposed to chill you out, so you can recover from your shock/stress/trauma, just never gets a chance to do its job.

So, you end up with this ever-increasing burden of stress and this ever-decreasing ability to deal with it.

And all the while your brain is mis-firing and sending you signals that may or may not be accurate, but sure as hell feel like they’re for real.

I know I’m tired, and I know that is a total over-simplification of a complex and (when I have more energy) highly fascinating neuro-physiological phenomenon, but I have to post at least something today. And somebody was looking for ptsd and mild tbi info, so there ya go…

A Perilous Relief – I Would Like to Think I Know How to Learn

I have a lot of reasons to avoid risk-taking behavior and danger-seeking activities. I have a very full adult life, and I have a lot of responsibility. That, alone, should be reason enough for me to stay out of trouble.

As I’ve said, I believe that risk-taking behavior should be a learned skill. I don’t necessarily think we need to banish it wholesale from the human experience, but we should be familiar enough with it that we can satisfy our own innate (and very human) need for thrills and chills without wrecking our lives. I like to think that I’m a living example of someone who’s managed to do a decent job of that. The above examples are all in my past, and I have learned a great many lessons from the ones that “went south” or almost did. One would expect that, after 43 adventurous years and plenty of opportunity to reflect on my mistakes, I’d learn a thing or two. And, for the most part, I have.

I’d better. I have a great many adult responsibilities, including providing for a household, paying a monthly mortgage, keeping current on bills, managing a full-time career, and acting as part-time executive producer of a nationally syndicated weekly broadcast. I also have a number of health issues I need to actively manage, and I have hobbies and interests which engage me deeply on a regular basis. To say that my life is full-filling would be an understatement.

My life is so full, and so filling, in fact, that I need to go to extraordinary lengths to maintain ordinary functionality. I have persistent issues with chronic pain. I have cognitive-behavioral issues that stem from multiple head injuries over the course of my life, which – if not actively managed – threaten the most basic aspects of my life, including my employability and my interpersonal viability. I am keenly aware of how easy it would be to screw things up with a careless word or a stupid action – and lose everything I’ve worked so hard to accomplish. I have a packed schedule, most days, and if I don’t keep myself well-fed, well-rested, well-cared-for, I can quickly (and seemingly without warning) slide into old patterns that alienate people around me, compromise my ability to do my daily job(s), even threaten my well-being and safety.

I know all too well I can’t take chances with my health, my mental hygiene, my emotional state. I can’t take risks with my body or mind or spirit. I stand to lose too much. I stand to lose everything. And I’ve worked too hard getting where I am, to just throw it all away. So, I pay attention to the world around me. I take notice of the clues life is sending me. I pick up on signals that most people can afford to ignore, but I cannot. I have no choice but to remain ultra-mindful… of just about everything. (It might sound exhausting, but it’s the price I pay for a highly sensitive system. And frankly, after a lifetime of working at it, the habit of intense attendance to a wide range of details has simply become a way of life.)

But despite lessons learned from my rough-and-tumble past, despite my present awareness of responsibilities, and despite my normally level-headed, even-keel nature that eschews overt risk like the plague, I am still prone, now and then, to a sort of danger-seeking behavior that frankly makes no sense. I know better than to make decisions and follow courses of action that jeopardize my physical safety and my ability to make a living. I know better than to push myself physically to the point of exhaustion. I know better than to go off my usual schedule, which is so vital for my everyday normal functioning.

But Why?

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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Throwing nuts at the cheetah

I had a really troubling dream just before I woke up this morning.

I was walking through the woods with two friends of mine. It was almost like a jungle or rain forest – the air was very humid and the trees were huge and spaced apart, and the forest floor was quite open — not a lot of underbrush, but springy underfoot. We were walking along a wide path that was well-worn, and we were talking about this and that. I believe we were discussing possible dangers from big cats that had been seen in the area.

If I remember correctly, the woods had been cleared of all dangerous wild animals a while back, but some big animals had escaped and had returned to their habitat, so hikers were warned to be very careful and not engage them.

We walked and talked for a while, and I was picking up stones and nuts and old pieces of tropical fruit that had fallen from the trees. I was tossing them around, and my friends were getting irritated with me. They wanted me to stop, but I didn’t feel like talking with them. They were just running at the mouth, and I was getting overwhelmed with all the words.

We were passing by an open clearing that was raised up above the path, when we looked up and saw a cheetah sitting in the sunlight. It was a beautiful animal, so sleek and strong. It also looked very dangerous and wild. My friends said we should walk by it slowly and not bother it. They were both terrified of it.

I was thinking that I knew how to deal with a big cat. I’ve learned (for real, not only in the dream) that with big cats, if you come across them, you have to face them down. Make yourself as big as possible and stare them in the eye. You cannot show any fear, and you cannot turn your back on them, because when they hunt, they go for the back of their prey’s neck. If you do show them fear, or you turn your back to them, they instinctively attack and go for you. This is why joggers and cyclists are often attacked by mountain lions in California — they have their back turned to the animal or their heads are down, exposing the backs of their necks, so the big cats attack.

I wasn’t afraid of the big cat, and I felt like I needed to show it who was boss. I also felt a kind of rush from the imminent danger — Here was a cheetah! A big cat this close! We were in danger for our lives! I felt that familiar rush of adrenaline that sharpens my senses and pumps me up and makes me do things that I would not do under normal circumstances. Something in me surged with daring, and I took a nut I’d been holding and threw it at the cheetah. I felt a thrill of danger course through me, and I cursed myself for having thrown it at the cat. The nut bounced near it, and the animal flinched, and it looked like it was going to back off and leave us alone. My heart was pounding and my mind was calculating what I would do in response to it. I was watching it very, very carefully, to see what it would do, and for a few moments, it looked like the big cat was going to withdraw into the woods and leave us alone.

But then my friends got very frightened that I’d thrown the nut at the cat, and they started to freak out and panic. My one friend started to shake and quiver, and my other friend, who is a bit overweight and doesn’t move very quickly in real life, took off running down the trail. In my dream, I was thinking, “What are you doing?! You’re going to catch its attention! Why are you running from a cheetah? You can’t outrun it! You have to stare it down. You have to stand your ground!

I looked up at the big cat and saw it had suddenly spotted my friend. in an instant, it recovered its composure, sprang into action, and raced after my friend. It looked so beautiful in motion, all its sinews taut, its coat shining in the sunlight that filtered through the canopy above us. But my admiration was short-lived, as it caught up with my friend, grabbed them by the back of the neck, and started to run off with their body dangling from its jaw.

Frozen with horror for a moment, I took off running after the cheetah, yelling at the top of my lungs and willing myself to run faster. I was convinced I could catch it and wrestle my friend from its grip.

The big cat was very fast, though, and it was way ahead of me, with my friend’s body hanging from its jaws. I was horrified and mortified, and my other friend was screaming at me for throwing the nut at the cheetah and making it angry. In my head, I was trying to calculate how far the cheetah could get, carrying my friend’s heavy body, if I could catch up with it because it would be slowed down by the weight, and if I could get to it in time to save my friend. I suspected that my friend had been killed instantly, or that even if I did catch up, the cheetah would be eating them, so there wasn’t much point in my running after them.

Plus, I ran out of steam after a few hundred yards, and I had to stop. I was so upset at what had happened. On the one hand, I was upset with myself for throwing that nut, but I was also upset with my friend for not having better sense, and I was upset with the whole chain of events that was probably killing my friend.

I woke up very disturbed around 5:00, and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep.

I think that this dream has something to say about a lot of aspects of my life, these days. I have a lot of people around me who are very frightened for me, as I talk to them about my TBIs and the issues that go along with them. They’re like the friends in my dream, who just want to walk along quietly along a well-worn path in the woods, chatting about this and that, not really bothered by anything… cognizant that there are things amiss in the world, but not really eager to confront them.

There’s also a part of me that’s like that. I don’t want to be bothered by dangers in the woods. I want to just go along my merry way and not have to expend a lot of energy on things like dealing with large dangers that I come across.

But there’s also a part of me that gets bored with all that safe stuff, and I need to occupy myself. So I do things like picking up rocks and nuts and old pieces of fruit and tossing them around. I get bored pretty quickly, so I start casting about for new things to learn and do.

And sometimes my casting about uncovers big dangers along the way. Like this diagnostic imaging I’m going to have done — an MRI this weekend, and an EEG in another week or so. Who knows what will be uncovered as a result of that? Sometimes I cast about a bit too freely, and I can end up stirring up things that are unexpected and potentially dangerous… but are actually authentic pieces of my human experience.  (The interesting thing is that the cheetah in my dream actually belonged in the woods — it was its home, and it had just returned to its rightful place.)

Sometimes I cast about too carelessly, too — like tossing a nut at the cheetah. Or, I take a calculated risk and push the limits. In my dream, I didn’t just toss the nut at the cheetah for fun — I did it partly to show it that I meant business, and I wasn’t intimidated by it. I also wanted to scare it away. And it almost worked. But my friend with the weak nerves had to take off running — doing exactly the wrong thing, in that situation. They didn’t have the same information as I, apparently, and they let their fear get the best of them. And then all is lost.

This is pretty significant to me, in my real life experiences with others, because as I move forward, I’m going to have to educate the people around me about my condition(s) — TBI, etc. — so that they learn how to respond appropriately to the situation I’m in. I really don’t need them to freak out and get all worked up over things that A) we don’t know for sure, or B) are big and dangerous but are totally manageable with the right information and the right team of caregivers. I don’t need them to lose it and put themselves — or me — in danger. I need them to be cool, be present, be able to help in a substantive and constructive way.

As I go through this next phase of diagnostic testing — maybe it will show something, maybe it won’t — I need to keep my head on. I need to take care of myself and take things slowly, and not only know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but be clear with others why I’m doing it. Everybody needs to be in the loop, and that includes the parts of myself, too, that are prone to freak out and make poor choices out of fear, rather than knowledge and courage.

But at the same time, I also need to be cognizant of my tendency to court danger, as some kind of reflex, some inner/neuropsychological/biochemical need to sharpen and brighten mylife experience… to wake me up and keep me engaged in life. I need to be aware of my tendency to overstep my bounds, when I’m bored or tired or in need of some stimulation. I need to remember that, when it comes to taking on new challenges, I’m not always as smart as I think I am, and I’m not always up to the task of overcoming what I’m presented with. I can’t afford to forget that I rarely know as much as I need to know — either about myself or the situation I’m presented with. In my dream, I couldn’t chase down the cheetah, once it had hold of my friend. And I can’t always overcome my cognitive and behavioral issues as well as I’d like, once they take hold of me and get a ‘running start’ ahead of my logic and innate abilities.

When (not if) I meet a proverbial big cat on the path through my own “woods,” I need everyone with me — the parts inside and the people outside — to remain calm, make informed choices, and keep their heads. I need to focus on the basics — take care of my body and my mind and my spirit, with adequate rest and activities that feed and sustain me and build up my strength (not to mention common sense). And I need to be aware of my limits and not push them carelessly just because I need a thrill. I need to be aware that I do have a tendency (perhaps thanks to my PTSD) to court danger, just to feel awake and alive. And I need to remember that I’m much more use to my friends and family alive and healthy, than injured or dead. No matter how dangerous a situation may seem, the right information and the intention/willingness to intelligently proceed in the proper way can mean the difference between keeping on my path and making progress, and disaster.

Note to self: Get plenty of rest over the coming days and weeks. You’re going to need it, to do a decent job of handling all this.

A Perilous Relief – Conventional Wisdom About Risk-Taking/Danger-Seeking Behavior

Risk-taking or danger-seeking behavior, especially in teenagers or at-risk individuals, has intrigued, worried, and frustrated scientists and mental health professionals for aeons — perhaps as long as humans have walked the earth, and there were friends, family and/or hunting party members to be concerned about the welfare of “crazy bastards” who took more risks than most.

In the past, actions like walking up to a mastodon and launching your spear at it point-blank, scaling the face of El Capitan without ropes, or putting every penny you own on the line for a long-shot bet or a chancy investment, were equated with a sort of “death wish” or the desire to do self-injury. Such behavior was (for good reason) considered illogical, even pathological. That professional view has changed, but some residue of it remains, culturally speaking.

I’ve also heard risk-taking behavior explained as a form of self-sabotage or a kind of self-abuse, based in an individual’s general lack of understanding about (and/or desire to flee) deep-seated emotional issues. Surely, the person who races funny cars in their off-hours must be running from something. Smokers and heavy drinkers who cannot help but be well-aware of the dangers of their habits must be in denial. And surfers who court their own destruction in 30-foot waves above razor-sharp volcanic rocks that are just beneath the surface of the boiling sea certainly must have “unresolved issues.”

On the other hand, I’ve heard danger-seeking described as a form of self-aggrandizement, as a way to prove one’s evolutionary superiority over social/biological competitors. Whether it’s competing in freestyle skiing… or “playing chicken” in speeding cars on a pitch black night… or jumping from skyscrapers with a parachute, you’re essentially “showing off” to “get girls” or prove to the world that you’re the superior specimen. And dude, on a certain level, it tends to work.

At a basic, physiological level, I’ve heard risk-taking described as a form of addiction to adrenaline highs, which arises from the brain’s continued experience of adrenaline rushes in the face of extreme danger. It’s a conditioned activity, I’m told — one that arises from the complex biochemical cascade of stress hormones and bodily “cowboying up” which happens over and over and over again… until the body, mind, and spirit just can’t live without the high.

Now, I myself, have a history of danger-seeking and risk-taking behavior, in both my personal and professional life. I’m not one for extreme sports; in fact, few things entice me less than bungee jumping or skydiving. The idea of stock car racing appeals to me… until I calculate the likelihood of getting into a fiery crash, whereupon my enthusiasm dissipates considerably. But in my own unique way(s), I have courted danger and taken risks that others considered foolhardy, and I have done so with gusto and glee. In some cases, the chances I took worked out well for me, resulting in either professional and personal financial advancement or the increased esteem of my peers — or both. In other cases, I narrowly escaped possible disaster, and I was lucky to get out of the situation(s) in one piece. In still other cases, I fell flat on my face — sometimes hard — and lost a great deal in the process.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A Perilous Relief – Introduction

Risk-taking or danger-seeking behavior has been a puzzle of human experience for generations. Certain individuals repeatedly tempt fate with foolhardy and clearly risky behaviors. They make seemingly rash choices that endanger everything they hold most dear, including life and limb, friends and family, and future prospects for survival. But why?

Explanations by scientists and mental health professionals have often been psychological in nature, and recently with increased understanding of genetics and neuro-chemical processes, additional biological explanations have emerged.

While these new developments shed new light and add more facets and texture to our understanding of why some people actively choose to endanger their own survival, it’s my belief that yet another oft-ignored aspect of human experience plays into the risk-taking behavior equation: namely, painful sensory overwhelm. Further, it is my own belief (and experience, based on personal practice) that the use of “analgesic fear” can be used to control and manage pain and other sorts of sensory overwhelm.

Drawing on my own life experiences with chronic pain, sensory overwhelm, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, fear, and verifiable threats to my personal/professional survival, in this paper I will illustrate how I have repeatedly used risk-taking and danger-seeking behavior as a way to not only minimize my own physical/mental/emotional experiences of pain and sensory overload, but also optimize my personal and professional performance in the process.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A New Paper – A Perilous Relief

I’ve been head-down for the past several days, working on a paper called “A Perilous ReliefOn the physiological foundation(s) of risk-taking / danger-seeking behavior“. It’s an offshoot of my recent readings about how fear and anxiety have different effects on the body (especially on pain), how self-induced stress can have an analgesic effect, and how this research of mine can explain some pretty puzzling and problematic behaviors I exhibited over the past couple of weeks. I think I’m onto something here — if only for my own edification.

I’ll be posting excerpts from the paper, as I complete them. I wrote about 50 pages, in the past several days (I probably should have gone for a walk on Sunday, but I got to writing, and I got carried away). Eventually, when the work is finished, I’ll make it available for download and/or in print format. I will probably charge something for it, in hopes of getting some financial support for this blog and my research. It’s an ongoing project, but I’m hoping to have it finished within the next few weeks.

About “A Perilous Relief

This paper is a personal study in my own risk-taking and danger-seeking behaviors from a physiological standpoint. It explores my individual history of risky and dangerous choices not only as a way to pursue an “adrenaline high” or avoid emotional pain and dampen the effects of post-traumatic stress, but also as a highly effective way of coping with and mitigating my lifelong chronic pain and sensory issues and enabling me to function more effectively in the demanding world around me. It details:

  • select instances of my past and present personal/professional risk-taking (some of which had near-disastrous consequences),
    the often painful “sensory backdrop” which lay(s) the contextual foundation for my impaired choice-making,
  • the role that anxiety has played in the things I do and the choices I make and my overall physical experience,
  • how deliberately entering into fear-inducing, high-stakes situations not only cuts the pain that is my constant companion, but also helps me think better, perform better, be better... thus not only easing my discomfort but bolstering my self-esteem and enhancing my overall life, and
  • how continued cycles of anxiety–pain–fear–pain–anxiety–pain–fear–pain can create a feedback loop that systematically drains my personal resources and feeds into a downward spiral of diminishing returns, even as I am convinced that my performance is improving.

One of the important pieces of my own puzzle, is that I am a “high functioning” multiple mild traumatic brain injury survivor. Since the age of 7, through the past 35 years, I have sustained at least five (possibly more) head injuries which have had a noticeable impact on my physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and social landscape. Nevertheless, neuropsychological testing has shown that I score around the 99th percentile of the WAIS-III verbal comprehension index. My intention is to use the heightened abilities I have been given to explore and explain the deep limitations I experience and describe my coping strategies and their outcomes, for the benefit of myself and others.

It is my hope that in reading this paper, individuals, health care providers, mental health practitioners, authority figures, and law enforcers of all kinds may come to a broader understanding and appreciation of why some of us take risks (and take them so frequently without apparent regard for our own well-being) and develop more productive ways of managing potentially damaging behaviors — behaviors which in fact provide experiences that are essential to the peak performance of certain highly sensitive individuals.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

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When PTSD and TBI Intersect, Hide, and Exacerbate Each Other

I’m not much in the mood to post, these days. I’m still fried from my last 4 days of being assailed… seeking shelter… being displaced… being at the mercy of the elements… and knowing that the winter is just starting. But I haven’t posted in about a week, and this PTSD+TBI business is actually something I need to write about.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this, and it won’t be the last. One of my first posts here, as I recall, had to do with how post-traumatic stress/PTSD and TBI can be interrelated, and TBI is often misdiagnosed as PTSD (which delays treating the TBI symptoms).

What I’d like to talk about is how I’ve been seeing a whole lot of interaction between post-traumatic stress and TBI in my own life, lately. A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a very heated conversation about someone’s trouble with neighbors. There was some problem with boundary issues and noise problems at all hours, and one of the guys I heard talking was just going off about this neighbor of his who was overstepping his boundaries. It was really getting heated, and the more he talked about it, the angrier he got, and the less clear he got in his reasoning. Then, I heard him say that when he was a kid, he had his nose broken a bunch of times by someone who used to beat him up — badly.

I got to thinking… this guy really got the crap kicked out of him, and the only way you can break someone’s nose is if you hit them in the face — that is, in the head. Plus, the fact that he got the crap beaten out of him repeatedly tells me that he probably has some level of post-traumatic issues going on, too. I’m no doctor, but listening to him was like listening to myself on a really bad day. Reasoning (or lack thereof) all over the place… getting set off by character traits of the problem individual (who may have reminded him of the person who’d beaten him when he was younger)… getting really worked up… going on and on about the same stuff over and over… and just not holding back. No impulse control. Hostility. Anger. Threats. Frustration. Hurt… the works.

Some of the stuff the neighbor was doing was on the fine line between agitating and infuriating — the operative factor was this guy’s capacity to deal with it… which was close to nill. I could totally see how even a little bit of PTSD and TBI could concoct a really volatile situation.

I just hope he doesn’t/didn’t act on any of his threats. It was not good.

And then we had the ice storms last weekend…

I was in an area that was pretty hard-hit (though not as hard as others) by the intense ice storms last weekend. And the house where I was staying was in the middle of the woods. All night, last Thursday night, I lay awake in bed, listening to trees and limbs crack and crash and fall and splinter not far from the room where I was supposed to be sleeping. Every 15-20 minutes, something else would break or fall, and I’d be listening hard to tell how close it was to the house… if it was coming my way… if it was coming through the window or the wall or the roof… listening to stuff hit the roof, hit the ground around the house, hit the ground in the woods not 20 feet from the bed where I was huddled. It was no war zone, it was no combat situation, but I swear, several times an hour, I wondered if I was going to make it through the night in one piece.

The adrenaline rush was intense. Just wave after wave of overwhelming fight-or-flight pouring through me like one flash flood after another. I’d hear a slow cracking off in the distance that got louder and sounded like it was coming closer, and the adrenaline would shoot through me, waking up every cell in my body, all my senses on high-alert, the blood pumping, sweat pouring off me, holding as still as I could, till whatever was falling would fall… then I’d listen to see if there was anything more, and I’d peek my head over the window sill to look out, but couldn’t see anything from the rain and the fog… that full moon eerily brilliant behind the clouds overhead… I’d grab my flashlight and call to others in the house to see if everyone was okay, and I’d check around the sides of the house to see if anything had fallen close or had come through a window or a wall. I couldn’t see much of anything, with all the rain and fog and my flashlight not being bright enough. Then, after satisfying myself that there was no damage, I’d head back to bed, thinking things were okay… and I needed to get some sleep.

Back to bed I went… for another 15 minutes, till the next tree or limb went down… Ice cracking and crashing… tops being taken off trees.. branches giving way… stuff just falling and crashing at every turn… There were times I seriously thought I was done for. I was in the middle of the woods, surrounded by 80-100+ -foot trees, in a monster of an ice storm. For all I knew, the end was near.

It wasn’t, now I realize. But it sure felt that way, at the time. And the lack of sleep didn’t help matters. Plus, when it comes to human experience and the effect it has on the body and mind, sometimes a threat doesn’t even need to be that intense or severe, to do serious damage. All that’s required is you think it is — and your body reacts to it as though It is real. At least, this is how I understand things.

Truly, when your brain is releasing all those biochemical reactions to perceived threats — the adrenaline, the cortisol, the glucose, the various hormones and secretions that help us run from charging elephants/bulls/creditors and live to see another day — whether that threat is “real” or not isn’t the issue. It’s how real your brain thinks it is, and how extreme your body’s reaction to it is. If your body is freaking out because of an apparent threat, the power of psychological rationalization tends to decline. And the body has an interesting way of escalating… and escalating… and escalating… so that cycles of shock and surprise and fright and terror diminish the ability to think rationally about a situation, further compounding the effects of shock and surprise and fright and terror… so that with each subsequent wave of trauma, even if each wave is quantitatively “less”, it seems like more — it’s qualitatively more. And the experiences you have — even if they become milder — can take on an inflated nature that defies reason.

So that every little thing makes you jump. And the more intense your reaction — and the less threat there logically is — the harder it is for you to get your mind around it. To the point where you think you’re losing your mind, and you can’t figure out why you’re such a wuss.

That’s the trickiest part of post-traumatic stress for me. The fact that my body can be so fried by my brain’s constant cascades of chemicals, so exhausted from the sudden shocks and ups and downs… yet the reasons I’m jumpy don’t seem like that big of a deal. So, trees were falling in the woods around me? So what? It wasn’t like I was under fire in Falujah. So, I spent the night listening to limbs snap off, wondering if one was going to come through the window. It wasn’t like I was in Bosnia in the 1990’s, for heavensake. My body is indeed exhausted by its own experience, but my mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that I’m entitled to be a bit jumpy, after four days of drama, being low on sleep, rushing around, trying to keep my life going… helping to tend fires to keep the house warm and the animals inside alive… helping so split wood and haul water and take care of sick folks who were wondering if they should go to the hospital to be safe… No, I wasn’t holed up in Afghanistan, but my body and brain took a beating this past weekend, I was in fact traumatized by a constant fear of imminent harm… even death, and it’s going to take a while to recover.

I think one of the hardest things about dealing with post-traumatic stress, when TBI after-effects are involved, is being able to get things straight in my mind about what I “should” and “should not” be thinking/feeling/doing. My brain gets fuzzy and one-track, when I’m under extreme stress, and I process things slower. Given that my processing time is slower than I’d like it to be, this adds more stress to already stressful situations, in that I’m mortally afraid that my reactions aren’t going to be quick enough, that I’m not going to be able to respond adequately, and I’m not going to keep up as I should. My brain gets scrambled, and I get agitated, jumpy, angry, hostile… to the people I need to be on good terms with… which adds to my existential crisis, because not only do I not know immediately what I need or what’s going on around me, but I also don’t know how to communicate well — or sustain good relations — with the people who can help me.

It’s a terrible, terrible thing, to be standing across the road from someone with the experience and resources (and power tools) to help you get through a crisis, but not be able to figure out A) what to ask them for/about, and B) how to ask them for what you need. To be that alone and clueless, just an arm’s length away from help, is a terrible feeling. And to be so fuzzy and turned around and fatigued and churned up, that you are only dimly aware that something is terribly wrong, but you can’t figure out what it is, just adds gasoline to the raging fires of anxiety and panic.

This winter is going to be an interesting one, I can feel it. It’s going to be time to tell people I know about my injuries and ask them for help. It’s going to be time to own up to being somewhat impaired and far less independent than I want to be. It’s going to be time to batten down the hatches, simplify my life, and find out who my real friends are. It’s going to be time to make changes — especially with people close to me, who get the brunt of my crushing anxiety when it’s at its worst — and we’re not at our best. I have a feeling it’s going to be time have large helpings of humble pie, suck it up, and forget all about my pride, in the process of just getting things done.

And it’s going to be time to take a long, hard look at my trauma fallout and understand how it intersects with and compounds my tbi symptoms. It’s going to be time to talk to my parents, to tell my family about my situation, and see if/where/how/when they can help me get by.

I hate this. I hate it all with every fiber of my being. But if I don’t learn how to ask for help quick, heaven only knows how long and how well I’m going to be able to make it through.

Better today… of pain and ptsd

Well, I got to bed by 10:00 last night, and I was able to sleep through till 6:30 or so, which is an improvement over what I’d been able to do over the last weeks.

I’ve been kept up by anxiety over what my neuropsych evaluation is going to reveal — that’s coming up this week — me being terribly afraid that I had given wrong information or I just couldn’t think my way through certain things… I’ve been second-guessing myself for days and days, wondering if I answered as accurately as possible… of if maybe I’m more crazy than head-injured… or that my head injuries have led to some sort of mental illness that’s invisible to me because of my anosognosia… or maybe I’m just on this wild goose-chase that will end up being all for nothing.

I try to be level-headed and logical about this and remind myself that my neurpsych has been doing this for many years, and they have certainly seen worse cases than me. But still, not being able to be a full participant in the process and being a subject of examination and enquiry… well, that makes me uncomfortable, and even if I do trust the doctor. I just don’t know what to expect, and I cannot manage my wild rang of emotions, if I don’t know what I’m managing for.

Fortunately, I do feel better this a.m. — not so much pain, not so much tenderness. I got a bit of a massage yesterday p.m., and it really, really helped. Even if it was painful at times — I don’t care. Short-term pain for long-term benefits. I’ll take the pain in the short-term, if it will help me feel this much better in the a.m.

I still have discomfort when I move – especially in my hips and lower back. And my elbows are still sore. And my thighs are still tender. But I can push up my sleeves, so they’re not chafing my wrists, and my body isn’t screaming so loud I can’t hear myself think.

I tried the Arnica yesterday. i can’t say I noticed an immediate effect, but I’m going to keep trying it — 4 tablets dissolved under my tongue 4 times a day, for a few days. I’m going to take it again after I finish my cup of coffee. (I’ve heard that you have to be careful taking homeopathic remedies when you’re eating or drinking. It’s my understanding that the remedy needs to be the only think you can taste… or I could be wrong.) I’m not off caffeine entirely — that would be too much. But I am cutting back. I only had one cup yesterday, which I think helped me sleep.

This arnica experiment is definitely going to be totally screwed up by my other changes I’m making. In a “real” test, the only thing I would change would be taking the arnica, not getting more sleep or changing my diet or getting more exercise. But dude, I’m in pain, and I need it to stop, so I can get on with my life.

Thinking about the role that pain has played in my life, I think there’s a definite trauma aspect to it. I have friends who specialize in treating trauma, both in medical and psychological environments, and they talk a lot about it. They also love to tell me I’m a “trauma survivor” — having had a whole bunch of accidents that left me progressively more impaired, as the years went on, along with the social, interpersonal, and physical after-effects of my impairments that haven’t helped me get by in the world.

And since I have a history of trauma — physical, as well as psychological — I have to admit I do show signs of PTSD.

Over at Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_stress_disorder — I found this (note: my comments are in italics):

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (Text Revision) (DSM-IV-TR), may be summarized as:[1]

A. Exposure to a traumatic event – multiple head injuries over the years, along with other accidents and fights/clashes with people that threatened my safety
B. Persistent reexperience (e.g. flashbacks, nightmares) – I’ve had lots of them over the years… where do I begin?
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (e.g. inability to talk about things even related to the experience, avoidance of things and discussions that trigger flashbacks and reexperiencing symptoms fear of losing control) – some things I just will not talk about… you can pump me for details till the cows come home, but I’m not talking about certain things that have happened to me, unless I can know that it’s not going to ruin my life, if I do
D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance) – well, yuh, I’ve had more restless nights and being jolted awake at 3 a.m. with my heart racing and my body soaked in sweat… than I care to think about
E. Duration of symptoms more than 1 month – try months and months… sometimes years later, after the initial event is over
F. Significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and relationships.) – just ask my friends, family, and co-workers… just ask my 17 former employers

Notably, criterion A (the “stressor”) consists of two parts, both of which must apply for a diagnosis of PTSD. The first (A1) requires that “the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.” The second (A2) requires that “the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” The DSM-IV-TR criterion differs substantially from the previous DSM-III-R stressor criterion, which specified the traumatic event should be of a type that would cause “significant symptoms of distress in almost anyone,” and that the event was “outside the range of usual human experience.” Since the introduction of DSM-IV, the number of possible PTSD traumas has increased and one study suggests that the increase is around 50%.[48] Various scales exist to measure the severity and frequency of PTSD symptoms.[49][50]

Now, this is all pretty thick stuff for me to get into. Personally, I don’t feel like I can take on much more to process, other than just dealing with my own pain… but I have to say, the pain is worse, when I’m feeling the after-effects of some past trauma. When I’m dealing with people who have really physically hurt me in the past — like adults who used to really knock me around — or I’m interacting with people whom I have hurt in the past because of my bad behavior and poor social integration.

When I think back on being a kid, I remember a lot of pain, both from internal sources and from without. My pain issues date back to fairly early childhood – I was not a very limber kid, and I had a lot of difficulty doing things that other kids could just do, like touching toes and climbing and jumping and doing cartwheels and such. I had a lot of trouble with my balance, and I couldn’t do a somersault until I was about 5 or 6. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I do remember the day I did my first “real” somersault — I didn’t fall off to the side, but was actually able to just roll right over and keep my balance. When I tried to stretch and extend, like other kids could, it was very painful for me. But I kept trying, and I just forced myself to stretch and extend… until the pain was too much, and I had to stop… which was usually far short of where I wanted to be.

I wanted so much to participate, to take part, to be a part of what was going on. I hated being on the outside, not able to do what other kids could as easily as they could, so I pushed myself — very hard. There was a lot of pain, but that was just the price I paid for being able to be a part of what was going on.

The other source of pain was from the outside. I was raised by parents who didn’t know how to relate to me. I tended to get over-stressed and over-extended with all the stimuli going on around me (including the pain), and they tended to discipline me. Grab me. Jerk me around. Take hold of my arms and pull me to where I was supposed to be. It was excruciating, and it was shocking. My memories of childhood are full of instances where my mom would grab me out of the blue — I wasn’t following what was going on, and I didn’t understand what she wanted me to do, so she would yell and/or grab me and pull/push me to where I was supposed to be. With my sensitivities, it was like just being pounded out of the blue, time and time again. I could never prepare for it, I could never brace for it. And I didn’t really “get” why it was happening, a lot of the time.

I wasn’t able to explain my “bad” behavior to them, and they didn’t seem much interested in finding out if I was having problems, or if I was just a bad kid who needed discipline. I think, because of their religious orientation and the role that my very religious grandparents had in our lives, they “went with” the religious explanation that I was a “sinner” and that “sin” or the “devil” had taken hold in my life, so I needed to be disciplined to stop my acting out.

So, they did. I got called a lot of names, when I was little, because I couldn’t keep up cognitively or physically — spaz, space cadet, bugger, doofus, spastic… that was my dad. My mom preferred to call me pathetic or disgusting or asinine (asinine was her favorite). I was actually shielded from their wrath a lot, because I didn’t understand till I was 7 or 8 or 9 (?) that they were actually talking to/about me. I thought they were just saying what they were saying into the blue. It didn’t occur to me, till I had been in school for a few years, and other kids were calling me names, that my mom and dad were calling me names, too.

Actually, come to think of it, it didn’t occur to me that my mom was calling me names, till a few years ago. Somehow, being mistreated by my mother is a lot harder to take than being mistreated by my dad.

Even when they showed affection, my family’s hugs and touches were extremely painful. My family — for whatever reason — loves to give big, hard hugs, and it hurts like crazy when they do! I don’t know what it is that makes them think it’s okay to just throw their arms around someone and squeeze so hard… or maybe they can’t really feel it, themselves, so they have to have hard hugs and forceful contact, to even tell someone is there. My grandparents were hard huggers, and my mom was/is, too. She loves to reach out and grab people as a sign of affection, which is a double-whammy — I don’t want to shut her out, but I cannot take the force of her contact. Just over Thanksgiving, she was walking by me, and she reached out and grabbed my arm as a sign of affection. And when I was getting ready to drive home, with the weather being as rainy as it was, she got scared for my safety and she just threw herself at me and hugged me really hard, which really hurt.

I still haven’t figured out how to tell people that when they touch me, sometimes it feels like they’re pounding on me. It’s embarrassing, it’s troubling, and I dread people knowing just how much pain they’ve caused me. Being in pain is bad enough, but then “spreading it around” by telling others about it — and telling them there’s nothing they can really do, but keep their distance — is just awful. I’ve done it before, and it’s awful. Awful to be pushed out to the margins. Awful to be forced to push people away. Awful to have to hold them at arm’s length and never let them close, without pain.

Thinking about growing up in constant pain, raised by people who repeatedly hurt me terribly, is definitely not easy to take. I have to tell myself my parents weren’t fully aware of the effect that their behavior was having on me, and that if they’d known what it was like for me when they grabbed me or hugged me, they would not have done it. I have to tell myself that they had no idea, that they were innocent. Believing that my parents would intentionally harm me, is more than I can process right now.

But it’s probably worsening my pain, to hold back from that belief. Now that I’ve been away from them for a whole day, I’m starting to relax, and I’m starting to be able to adddress my pain. I think when I was in the midst of it all, I was so shut down that even if I’d been in terrible pain — which I may have been — I wasn’t aware of it. I was up in my head. I was too busy talking. I was too busy trying to stay out of arm’s reach of both my parents.

I rarely notice until days after the fact, but when I am in the midst of family at holiday/Thanksgiving time, I hold as still as possible for long periods of time — both as an attempt to not draw attention to myself, and to keep myself from acting out when I get stressed. When I’m stressed, my brain stops working really fluidly, and I end up needing to take more time to explain myself. But when things are all wild and woolly, like at my parents’ place at Thanksgiving, I don’t have the time to fully explain myself, and I end up hurting people’s feelings from a poorly told joke, or an attempt to josh around with others, and then I start flashing back to all the other times I said/did things that people took the wrong way.

Yes, I hold very, very still during the holidays… both for my own protection and that of others.

And it probably doesn’t help my pain — because of my rigidity and my disconnection from my body.

And it doesn’t help my PTSD. Because I go back to that place where I’m on auto-pilot, where I’m just keeping my head down and keeping moving, where I’m just doing what’s in front of me, and not aware of whether or not I’m hungry or tired or anxious or stressed. And when I’m not aware, when I’m just soldiering through (as I do so well!), I tend to push myself even harder — do more stuff, take on more tasks, be more manic, be more forceful, be harder on myself and add more things to my to-do list — and that cuts in on my sleep, it cuts in on my rest, it cuts in on my physical well-being.

And I have pain. Lots of it. Tearing, ripping, screaming, shooting, chafing, burning, crazy-making pain.

So, in a way, the pain is like my barometer for how I’m doing, stress-wise. It tells me if old stuff is coming up that’s making me do things and make choices that aren’t healthy. It tells me if I’m falling back on old patterns, letting my fears and anxieties and old hurts stop me from living my life. It tells me if I’m tired — and it tells me that I’ve let myself get over-fatigued and ill-nourished.

It’s an objective measurement of how I’m doing psychologically and physically. And it gives me a great “excuse” (in my mind, when a simple reason won’t suffice) to step back and cut out all the shit I’ve got on my plate… focus in, take care of basics, talk over my issues with my therapist, and make sure I get plenty of rest. It tells me, loud and clear and in no uncertain terms, that I’m totally f’ed up, and I need to stop doing what I’ve been doing, and just take a break. Take care of myself. Have a long, hot shower. Take care of myself. Now.

Unless I do, I’m going to stay in pain. That’s just the way it is. And it’s my choice.

In a way, pain is my friend — but only because it’s my mortal enemy.