Just for today

The PTSD brain can be hard to trust when it gets jacked up. It just takes off down the road like a scared chihuahua. Too many things become anxiety producing and stressful. You become hyper-vigilant, and immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion in too many scenarios. In the far reaches of your mind you know that every situation in your life cannot possibly be this dire. But when your brain is amped up on PTSD fear it can be increasingly difficult to conjure up the objective and reasonable side of your brain. And with a certain amount of this hyper-vigilance, it does not take long before the dark veil of despair becomes a fixture over your head. 

It works like this: First comes hypervigilance, then indefinite despair that is difficult to kick. You want to just shoo it away, but like an incessant weed, it comes back. 

There are intermittent moments of hope, such as those fleeting moments with friends at breakfast, or the renewed energy from that breakfast that makes you think you can do some baking today. You head to the grocery store to get items to attempt a straight-forward recipe for gluten free donuts. But after trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond and the grocery store you find yourself seemingly glued to the seat of your car. You feel too heavy to move, and you know the floaty feeling is settling in. You make a phone call in order to reach out for help, but there is no answer. So, you turn up the air conditioning to try to jump start yourself out of being stuck. But you just get cold, you’re still stuck. You read your Facebook feed, and then your emails on your phone. Finally, you resolve to get out of the car. You have to plan it out in your mind: all the moves that will get you out of the car, and into the apartment. Your skills as a stage manager in college come in handy for this exercise. 

Finally, you come inside the apartment and throw a leftover quiche in the oven for dinner. The gluten free donut recipe now seems like a far-fetched fantasy. 

Somewhere in the back of your mind you know there are good reasons to keep going, keep trying. You decide that just for today you have to trust that those reasons are real and worthwhile. Otherwise, there is nothing else. 

and there’s the sun …

I walked into my apartment mid-afternoon with groceries, the bright sun shining through the sliding glass doors in the living room caught me by surprise. I stopped in my tracks, and braced for the floaty feeling because, in the past, the sun shining brightly into my apartment would send me into dissociative floaty oblivion. Usually, on the weekend, I don’t even arrive back home until well into the evening to prevent myself from losing large swaths of time at home. I stood there, afraid for a bit that it was a mistake to come home so early. Instead, the dissociative floats decided to take a vacation as they were notably absent.

Somehow, I’ve turned a corner. This weekend I did not lose time. I was not glued to my bed upon waking, and the all too familiar foggy and floaty state was not present. I have few answers or clues for the change. About midweek I started making future plans. I can’t recall the last time I’ve done that. The challenges I’ve faced the last few years have narrowed my scope in such a way that I lived moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day. Such a necessary way of life put future planning out of my line of sight. I didn’t even realize this until I started planning for my future this weekend.

Prior to this weekend, I devoted all of my energy to simply moving from point A to point B, and all along the arduous task of moving between points I would implore my system to keep going just one more day. The effort to continue had to be broken down into discrete steps; otherwise, I likely would have been unable to function at even the minimal level I struggled to produce.

There were a few moments this weekend where I felt the floats wanting to get back into my head. I managed to trudge through them. Why couldn’t I plow through them in the past as I did this weekend? I do not know the answer to that question. What I do know is that I sat on the couch with the sun streaming in, and I remember every moment of it.

Sunday

I’m at the CVS pharmacy where I’ve just placed my prescription refill order. While I wait I start browsing the magazines in the news stand. I lightly touch the magazines with the grand food recipes that are beyond my capability at this point: simple spring salads, easter ham, easy spring slow cooker suppers. Yes, these are easy recipes, recipes for the masses. All I can do is look at them longingly and dream of a day when I will be able to do something simple like throw a few ingredients into a slow cooker for dinner. Before you even get to the point of putting ingredients into a slow cooker you have to have the wherewithal to plan for that, make a list, get yourself to a grocery store, shop, and then come home and put all of those ingredients away.

That same morning I woke up with a splitting headache, and the floaty feeling that glues me to my bed. I roll out to go to the bathroom, and nearly trip over my own legs because I am so wobbly from the floatiness. I tell myself, “It’s Sunday. Don’t lose the day. Get dressed now. Go to the diner. Now. Do it now.” But no, the floatiness takes over, the world fades out, and I fall back into bed again. Somehow I find my phone on the nightstand with one hand by just feeling around for it. I call Doc, get his voicemail and leave a message. After some period of time I can’t quantify, I go in the closet to get some clothes. I find some clothes, and then fall into bed again from the exhaustion and floatiness. I now have clothes. I just have to get out of my pajamas and put them on. The phone rings. It’s Doc. We do the Emotional Freedom Technique together on the phone. I tap the appropriate points on my head, face, hands, and torso while I repeat after him, “Even though, even though I am scared and I don’t know why, I deeply, and completely love and accept myself.” We go through this again and again and again. Finally, I am able to stand without feeling wobbly. I am able to get out of my pajamas, put my clothes on, and gather my things to go to the diner for breakfast. I woke up at 9:05 a.m. It is now 11:15 a.m.

I head to the Okayish, Yet Preferred Diner. There was another diner I used to patronize on Sunday, the High Quality, Yet Gruff Diner. At High Quality they do things like make a Spinach Chicken Kabob Salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, blue cheese, grape tomatoes, and homemade greek dressing. Then there’s the crazily awesome homemade macaroni and cheese where they make their own superb cheese sauce, and it shows. However, at High Quality they do not treat you well if you are a solo diner. Even with empty booths in the diner they will insist you eat at the counter. But at the counter, people line up to pay their bill or pick up their takeout. Inevitably, I have people leaning over me as they wait for their takeout orders. I start to feel floaty when this happens. Having people in my personal space makes me shaky.

At Okayish you have to know what NOT to order. Here’s an easy rule. Never order soup there. I think they come prefab from some company. I once ordered Manhattan Clam Chowder that just seemed off. I ate so little of it they took it off my bill. One other time I thought I would try soup again, and I ordered Matzo Ball Soup. It was a vessel of liquid salt with a tint of yellow and a mediocre Matzo ball in the middle. So, yes, no soup. While we are on the Never Evers, never order any pastries here. I think they keep them in the pastry case to the point that they may be ready for shellacking for permanent keep. And don’t dream of the Buffalo Chicken sandwich. It’s just two frozen chicken fingers fried with some buffalo sauce inside a hamburger bun with a sprinkle of blue cheese. They do better with things they actually cook and prepare themselves, such as omelets, pancakes or waffles. They even know how to make excellent home fries, potatoes perfectly cooked, nicely seasoned with salt and pepper and crispiness here and there throughout.

But, the people who work at Okayish are some of the nicest around. Every time I eat someplace with better food I miss these guys. Just a few weeks ago, I was reading McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland while dining at Okayish when I started laughing right out loud as I was reading the book. The waitstaff wanted to know what I was reading. One waitress said to me, “I want to laugh too! What book is that?” On a recent Sunday the only available table was a small table wedged between two large tables. It was not an ideal place to be seated. The owner said, “I’m sorry, honey. It’s all I have.” I said that I was just glad to be seated. Then a booth cleared up after I placed my order, and they immediately moved me into the booth. I didn’t even ask to be moved. My favorite waiter, Chris, will tease me if I miss a Sunday, and he’ll say, “Cheating on us with another diner, are you?” One of these days I might be bold enough to say, “I got crazy and actually wanted some great diner food, but I always miss you guys.”

But, that was the morning. The diner outing is past, and now I loiter in the pharmacy wanting a reason to stay longer. I wander the aisles, but I have no need for anything else no matter how hard I look. I’ve already opened every greeting card that plays sound just to have something to do, and for the faint chance that Hoops & Yoyo would cheer me up. There is no need for anything else in this store. The prescription is ready. It’s time to go home.