On PTSD: An Update

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about.

I love that as a society, we’re more open and honest about sharing the mental illnesses that are impacting our lives. There’s a certain strangeness, though, that I also wonder about. If part one is identifying, and part two is stating it out loud, what is part three? My hope is that it’s “Here’s what I’m doing to try to get better.”

I wish getting better at anything took little time at all. I wish I could dream of an improvement, and make it happen overnight. But that isn’t how behavior works; especially when many of our behaviors are complex. They’re rooted in DNA, patterns we learn from parents, school socialization, tv sitcoms, trauma, and an amalgam of various things.

My entire life I thought I was weird for my behaviors. I had labels of where my clothing went in my dresser. My class schedules were printed and color coded. I was rarely late, hyper organized, and terrified of failure. I hear it isn’t normal to like looking at spreadsheets?

At a counseling session I was talking about my daily routine. For fear of sounding overly type A, I won’t tell you how it goes. But very kindly, she said “In the counseling world, we can this ‘over-functioning'”. At work, my team jokes “Well, I’ll do task X, but probably not as well as Stephanie.” And Del says that sometimes I’m “Just a little extra.”

I like who I am. And my organization, flow charts, and amazing planning skills have gotten me far in life.

When you go through a lot of trauma, over an extended period of time, and experience trauma repeatedly – it changes you.

I could “Let go and let God.” But it’s unfair to say that when as a child I wondered “How did God let this happen?” It feels strange to put so much faith in something that also let that bad thing occur. You’re either omnipotent, or you aren’t – right? Yet, I know the evil that causes trauma is not of God, but of man.

Data is beautiful because it makes the world black and white and simple. And having no marriage or children is easier because it makes the world less complicated. The more things you add the harder everything gets.

There are not enough Bible passages, quips, one liners, or coffee dates to fix a world that feels constantly unsafe.

I once told Del I see all of the world, and I hate it. I can’t go into a room or on a street without scanning for every possibly of danger. I live my life at a 10, in constant fear of every threat. The car that might swerve, the woman who might launch at me. I have a very long list of things I control so I can feel safe.

I wasn’t on guard those few times, and danger struck. So if I am hypervigilant, maybe the world won’t hurt me again? If I’ve learned one thing from society, it’s that the victim gets blamed before the attacker. So I kiss Del and Carly every time they leave; certain one day they won’t come back. A deer will hit the car on a snowy day, and everything I love will be taken away.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted. Life always on edge, afraid of what’s around each corner, is exhausting. And it can sometimes be exhausting for Del, who runs to keep up.

I have, in spite of this overwhelmingly sad few paragraphs, gotten better. Two contradictory things have helped me: the safety of patterns, and a messy family.

Knowing I wake up and go to bed with same pattern, day in and day out, for years – allows me to feel like the world is safe. Yet too much control would drive anymore batty. Carly and Del, are my wonderful opposites. Del and I fight a lot over the fact that he sees the world as safe. And watching Carly, fearless of everything, helps me drop my guard. If they can see this world as safe, so can I.

I can go to bed a little later, eat dinner a little earlier, and have a little extra ice cream. If I work out 55 minutes instead of an hour, the world won’t stop spinning. Little by little I arc towards better. Little by little the world is somewhat safer. Trauma fades, and in it’s place stand a husband holding me tight and a baby grabbing ahold of everything she can.

On rounding up…

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

The man talked about how he felt like his entire life he never failed, and he thrived off his own perfection. However, eventually, he had a break down when he could not keep up with unrealistic standards. Of course, the problem with perfection is: it’s impossible.

My office mates have been teasing me for weeks, “Is everything you do perfect?”

My husband tells me, “You never mess up. I wish you would sometimes.”

The toll of my own perfection is exceptionally exhausting.

Never miss an email, return every call, every decimal point is rounded perfectly, every color combination matches, and no word is spoken out of turn.

My inner critic has no end to my own faults. I ask Del five times a day if I’m a bad mom. Yesterday I asked if I was a bad mom because I was washing Carly’s bottles instead of holding her. Facebook has taught me that if you don’t spend every minute of your life staring at your child, you will miss SOMETHING and regret whatever other thing you were doing in the minute.

Friends of mine came up with the term “round up.” Research shows that women consistently underestimate our abilities. We don’t apply for jobs unless we meet most criteria, and we don’t push for raises unless we’re 1,000% certain we deserve them. Instead of underestimating our internal (and numeric) value, we need to round up.

A few weeks ago, I took a day off of work because I was exhausted. One day turned into two. Then, the week-end hit, and I spent most of it sleeping. My brain finally hit the breaking point. Between being a wife, motherhood, and work, the voice telling me I was not doing enough – and I was not doing it perfectly – burned me out.

I spent a long time thinking of my inner critic. It’s that idiotic little voice telling me nothing is quite as good as it could be. My hair is straight, but there are a few strands always out of place. That report is 98% perfect, but that 2% is enough to ruin everything. After careful consideration, I know where the voice arose and how it kept growing. But honestly – that is all too much to process in one blog post.

But knowing the source, I did something different: I finally gave up.

I put a sign on my computer last week: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”

Last week I hit send on emails with typos. Last week I stopped overthinking my answers at work and just started muttering. I had a few Facebook posts without commas, a few reports where the font in the table didn’t match the font in the body. But somehow, the world kept turning and no one died.

As it turns out, the inner critic was never keeping me safe – it was holding me back. He should have been telling me I’m beautiful, talented, and my level of detail is unparalleled. But he’s kind of an ass face, and does not like to say nice things.

Lent is upon us. One year I gave up drinking a pack of cherry cola a day. For four years I tried to give up swearing (but that shit never takes….). This year, I’m giving up on my inner critic, and my implausible quest for unattainable perfection. I’m going to think less, react from my gut, and start to tell myself “Damn girl – round up! You got this.”

 

On what I’ve learned from my friends…

Last week I was talking to someone about the election. Yeah – my mistake.

Half way through the conversation the person said, “I don’t know how anyone could vote for candidate _____.” The person then went on to say, “Any people I know that support _____, I am no longer friends with. I got rid of those people.

We are all entitled to form with relationships with any people we please. But the idea of quickly throwing someone away over a political disagreement makes me feel sad.

So I wanted to shift the conversation away from differences, and focus on something positive: what the amazing people in my life have taught me. I thought of all of the incredible people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and then I thought about what I learned from our friendship. To the people in my life – I love you. Thanks for helping me become a better person.

Without further ado, here are the lessons I’ve learned from my friends.

Alex Cash – Think about everything. Question everything. Remain open-minded.

Alexa Zimmerman – By the time she is age five, your niece can easily become a better person than you may be.

Amy Gafjken – While it’s tempting to correct people when they’re wrong, sometimes it’s better to remain silent.

Ashley Woods – Life is full of so much joy, so grab all of that each moment you can.

Barry Schmidt – Read the news, watch the news, and listen to the news. Just be informed.

Ben Klomsten – Don’t break the rules, find ways to make them bend.

Ben Vance – When the chips are down for a friend, be the person that calls to pick that person up.

Brian Goins – The most talented people need not brag, because their confidence comes from what they can do.

Brandy DeLeo – Be kind as long as you can. If being kind doesn’t work – just shrug it off.

Bri Campo – Great friends are sacrificial.

Bri Fox – Advocate for yourself. Speak up for your needs. And never be scared to ask a good friend for help.

Cassi Hodgson – Any moment can become a silly moment.

Chris Cooper – You don’t have to put up with a shitty spouse. A good person will treat you well.

Courtney Kruse – Don’t rush through life. Take moments to do fun and silly things.

 Danielle Dobies – Share your challenges with people – it helps them understand that life can be difficult.

Dan Kruse – Some people were born to give clear, concise directions.

Darrin Matthew Voris – Be the person that brings people together.

Del Belcher IV – Be kind to people. Try new things. Spend money on things you love.

Drew VanTongeren – Find ways to turn negative conversation into something productive.

Frances Gibbs – Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before.

Gary Miles – Energetic children are a thing of joy, and their adventures should be shared on Facebook.

Gloria Klomsten – It doesn’t take anything away from yourself to compliment a stranger.

Guy McHendry – You really can have amazing discourse on Facebook, if the person leading knows what they’re doing.

Haley Mulroney – The first person you love more than yourself will likely be your niece.

Heidi Rhodes – The greatest joy in life comes from being with your friends.

Jack Campo – When you’re at work, give people your best. Help them. Serve them.

Jason Zimmerman – When giving people gifts, go all out.

Jessica Pierce – Children are amazing, and we need to do everything we can to understand them.

Jill Shaffer (I could probably devote a few blogs to how much I learned from Jill) – Before you speak, take a deep breath and think about what you’re going to say.

John Voelz – Be yourself. Always.

Jolene Schatzinger – You really can be kind to everyone.

Julia Belcher – Speak with everyone. Listen to them.

Justen Rhodes – Don’t just talk about helping people. Actually help people.

Karysa Trombley – Be boldly confident in the person that God made you to be.

Kelly Heath – You can be a busy and active mother, and raise outstanding children.

Mary Sterrett – Arrogance doesn’t look good on people. You can simply exist as an amazing person.

Mandy Stutenberg – Women can do anything and everything. And they can do it with unparalleled strength and grace.

Megin Worsham – Just because someone is quiet, doesn’t mean they aren’t the wisest person in the room.

Melissa Rickert – People are attracted to the person that gives them a kind smile.

Nancy Belcher – Diplomacy is learned over time, through interactions with people different than yourself.

Nicholas Quade – You don’t have to agree about everything (or even anything) in order to be friends with someone.

Paul Health – Be kind to your children, and make sure they always help the Sunday school teacher pick up a mess.

Renee Guerrero – Be passionate about what you believe in.

Robert Huschka – A good leader is willing to listen to anyone in the room.

Ryan Rammelt – The average person has more depth than you’ll ever know.

Shane Ebel – There is no problem too great than cannot be improved with one solid hug.

Stephanie Klomsten – A well planned party is a thing of beauty.

Stephanie Wright – Advocate for people that need help.

Steve Klomsten – Try to understand people. Seriously try.

Steve Trosin – Love your community, and try to make it better.

Terri McGarry – When people are talking to you – stop what you’re doing and listen.

Theresa Sieg – When cancer gets you down, tell cancer to go fuck itself.

Tim Maynard – Never doubt the power of well-placed sarcasm.

How about you? Who are the people you’ve learned from in your life? How have they helped you become a better person?

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