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  • The Mindful Medic

The Quirks That Make me... ME!

There are the quirky, small things that make you, you. Then, there are the things you do because of anxiety. The other night I was having a conversation about how I am much more open about my now-labelled Complex-PTSD “quirks”. The tricky thing for me, so I’ve been told, is that I have been exposed to many, many traumas over the years, both personally and professionally. So at this point I get triggered consciously or subconsciously, sometimes multiple times a day. Now that’s not to say that I am at a point where I become debilitated by my triggers and unable to function…. not at all. Like a true soldier, I keep marching on through all of the reactions, with a focus of moving forward… always forward. My nickname when I was a teenager was “Duddu” Urdu for Frog. What a fitting name that is for me. You see, frogs can move left. They can move right. They can move forward. But, frogs cannot go backwards. My father time and time again has told me, “Stefanie you can’t go back, life moves forward.” I have done my best to follow this advice.

During the better part of my journey with PTSD, I would keep the trigger reactions quiet, or so I thought. For some of that time I didn’t acknowledge them, because I didn’t even realize it was happening. When I was injured and develop PTSD, no one gave me a manual. There were no books out called, “What to expect when you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD”. Now that’s a title, isn’t it?

As the years went by and I started to heal, learn and grow, I became more self aware. I started to be able to recognize why all of a sudden I was extremely irritable. Why I would sometimes have a panic attack in Costco on the the weekend. Why I would constantly make promises to meet my friends for a night out and then “bail” at the last minute. It was because something in the course of my day/week/month had set me off.

For those of you who know me, you understand when I label myself, the ‘queen of trauma’. The harsh reality is that I have lived through a few unfortunate events. I am a paramedic, and the sheer nature of my job lends itself to what Syd Gravel calls “a conservative number of traumas in a lifetime of work.”

Syd uses the formula of exposure being:

A minimum of 2 traumatic events per week, per year. Syd counts a year’s work as 11 months, allowing the month of time off roughly for vacation or time off. So, 48 weeks x 2 equals 96.

That’s approximately 96 high stress traumatic exposures in ONE year! Did you know that the average person not working in the first responder or front line worker field is exposed to roughly 6-8 traumas in their LIFETIME? Food for thought, isn’t it?

So, back to me and my quirks. While personality traits and anxious habits can blend together, to an outsider it’s not always clear which of these “habits” are driven by anxiety. Whether it makes you look “rude” (avoiding phone calls, canceling plans) or “odd” (leaving a social setting quickly, bouncing your leg) — it can be hard when others judge you, based on these actions, without knowing what’s going on inside your head.

Some of these quirks can look like apologizing for anything and everything, things that, to me, might seem like an inconvenience for someone, even though I, myself, have no control over it. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed, I zone out. This can happen anywhere. I can tell that someone is speaking to me but I cannot retain what they are saying. Or when reading a paper or book I read and re-read the content to no avail. Sometimes I go blank when driving, questioning whether or not I know where I am going. In this case, I simply use a breathing technique and slow myself down. I am learning to trust myself. In most cases I know exactly where I am, I just have to push through the silent panic attack and trust myself. Other times the silent triggers look like me being irritable and snapping at little things. This is often accompanied by sensory overload. Sensory overload for me is usually but not limited to noise. A television is too loud, people talking too much. Every time is different… that’s what keeps things FUN. I could go on and on but I think you are getting the point. When you have PTSD, you can go from 0-100 in a snap. This behaviour can seem terribly rude or thoughtless. The beauty about becoming self-aware is that we start to see what’s happening as it’s happening. When we are able to communicate this to our friends and family, it creates a dialogue. Perhaps your family has taken it personally in the past when you’ve snapped for no reason. I can’t stress the importance of communication in order to rebuild and save those precious relationships.

I regrettably admit, it must be a very difficult challenge to live with me. I am thankful that my family has not abandoned me over the years and instead has stuck by me, encouraged, supported and loved me through it all.

I am finally at a place where I am starting to learn to get out of my head. All too often I have been trapped in there. Unable to communicate what I’m thinking feeling, perhaps feeling confused about what is going on. I have started to now to use my ‘big girl words’ and let people whom I’m close to know when I’m struggling. I do not use my PTSD as an excuse, but I now accept that is real, it is my companion and every one in a while it needs to be put in its place.

How do I do this? Well folks it’s about really understanding your personal limits and setting your boundaries. It’s about communication. It’s about understanding, I mean really understanding that sometimes it’s ok to say no to others in order to self preserve. If I start to feel uneasy or something is said or done that triggers me and I’m aware, I will verbalize it. I do not go into great detail about why, I just simply say that’s a trigger or trigger. At first I thought I might offend or frustrate my loved ones with this. I didn’t want them to think that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Instead, the opposite is happening. They respect when I share how I’m feeling. They listen and thank me for telling them. It is a simple way for me to communicate to them that if they have just noticed a drastic change in my mood or emotion, there is a reason.

Self care is so vitally important. I am doing my best to practice what I’m preaching to you right now in this blog, to my audiences I share with and the readers of my book. (soon to be be bookS - Your Shift Matters Resistance to Resilience release date: November 15, 2018 on AMAZON!)

Now I use the word practice because like the typical first responder type “A” personality, I tend to take on too much and I’m left running around trying to get everything done on time and as well as I can. I have learned a few techniques and am beginning to implement them, such as scheduling out my day to day tasks and goals. Scheduling in time for personal stuff like time with friends or family, going to the gym or simply curling up on the couch to watch TV with my fur babies.

Life is a journey and I am learning as I go. The point is guys - never stop trying or learning about yourself and what makes you tick. Learn as much as you can about your diagnosis, treatments, coping skills, common behaviours, how to support those who support us. The more you learn the better! It is then our responsibility to share this with the ones who love and support us, to keep us all informed and engaged.

With love,

Stefanie

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