Coping Method #4

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This is so fundamental that I almost decided not to do a post about it.

Don’t forget to breathe.

Taking deep breaths and concentrating on regulating your breathing can go a long way toward helping you calm down, whether it’s from a flashback, panic attack, caffeine overdose, or the anxiety caused by recovering an awful memory.

There are lots of breathing exercises out there. It’s a good idea to learn one now so that you have it in your coping methods for when you need it.

The one I do I developed on my own, but I’m sure there are things like it out there.

I start by finding a place where I can sit with a nice, straight back. I hold my hands in front of me, bringing them toward my shoulders when I breathe in, and pushing them away from me and touching my fingers together as I breathe out. I also kind of blow the breath out, like I’m about to whistle. Something about the sighing sound it makes is calming. I don’t know why the hand motions help me, but they do. There are lots of good, scientific reasons that breathing like that can help you calm down. They’re easy to find, so I don’t think I need to talk about them here.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the time or the location to do breathing exercises like that. Fortunately, we’re always breathing and we can always work on regulating ourselves so that we can calm down.

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Coping Method #3

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This one is big for me, though I didn’t start doing it until recently. It’s not as much an immediate way of handling the feelings that come with a flashback or after being triggered, but it helps when a memory just won’t leave me alone.

Write it out.

For a long time, I was in denial that the memories coming back to me were real. It took having a bunch of them slot together into a disturbingly clear picture of what had gone on before I finally allowed myself to acknowledge that I’d been sexually abused.

After that, the specifics of it all were too painful to think about in an orderly way. Now, after several years of this, I can write/type about some of it, and I get a certain amount of relief from doing so. I think that relief comes from putting the memory into a more ordered, logical form which helps me process the emotions. I also think that it helps that I’m in control when I write it down. The memories and the way that I express them in words are totally under my power. Last, and most dubious, I feel like the memories lose an aspect of their reality when I write them down this way, like I’m telling someone else’s story,  as I often do in my other writing. I don’t know if that’s entirely good, but it helps, so I don’t mind it.

Alas, I’m not to the point that I can have a flashback or recover a memory and then immediately write about it. Usually the shame and self loathing are too strong for a while. I have to wrestle myself out of that state a bit before I can handle writing. It gets easier every time.

Just yesterday, I woke from a nightmare and there were a few lines of writing in my head. I got them down on paper, not thinking that anything else would come from it. I ended up pouring out the story of what caused the nightmare onto six sheets of paper. I felt so much better after that. Usually, those kinds of nightmares ruin my mornings as I feel sick and vulnerable after them. Yesterday wasn’t like that. Just writing it out made all the difference.

I do recommend that you be careful about where you keep or how you dispose of this writing. I’m not ready for my family or friends to know anything about this, so I make sure that they can never stumble across any of it when they’re around and learn my story before I’m ready to tell them. Some of you, who are in therapy (not an option for me just now), might find that what you write could be really useful for your therapist, and that you can relate certain things that happened to you more easily that way than by telling them out loud.

Away from Home

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Let me begin this post by saying that I will NEVER drink coffee again. I have sworn it off. Anything with more caffeine than a cup of tea is not for me.

As I mentioned here, my grandfather recently passed away while I was thousands of miles away at a writing conference. To get home, I’d have had to dodge some pretty heavy obligations, talk to people about changing my flight, etc… My mom told me that I should just stay and stick it out. She advised that I keep myself distracted, so I did.

There were quite a few people that I’d met before at this conference, and they invited me to various activities that were taking place after the workshops and panels that took place every day. I actually had a lot of fun. These people were good company, and they drew me out of myself a lot.

The only trouble was that I get really tired when I’m around too many people for too long, and I wasn’t sleeping well due to a combination of grief, stress, and a strange bed in a strange place. It got to the point that I’d be sitting, listening to another writer talking at a panel and start to fall asleep. The last day, it was so bad that I had two cups of coffee. I know that doesn’t sound bad, but it’s two more cups than I would normally drink.

Up until lunch time, I didn’t feel too bad, jittery and tired, but not sleepy. I could live with that. But as I was looking for the next room I was scheduled to be in, I started feeling really dizzy and having trouble breathing. As my vision was narrowing down to a small point of light, I turned to the writer I was walking with, a friend from a couple of other conventions and retreats, and said “I think I’m going to black out.” I thought I was joking, figured it was just one of those tunnel vision moments that would resolve itself in a second, but it turns out I was right. I passed out right there in the middle of the hallway.

I guess I was only completely out for a handful of seconds. When I came to, all I could see was the light shining red through my my hair, which had fallen across my eyes. I brushed it away and saw someone with dark hair leaning over me. I knew it was one of my friends, but two of them had long dark hair, and it wasn’t until later that I was able to confirm which one of them it was. My mind was so scrambled that for a while, nothing was clear to me and none of the memories from right after I passed out are easy to access. This confusion is just one of the symptoms of caffeine poisoning, and I was suffering ten out of fifteen listed here.

The main thing I gathered is that a lot of people were worried about me. Someone fetched the nurse kept on staff and one of the other writers there who was a doctor left her workshop to come check on me. Several people missed the events they were going to attend to make sure that I was alright. My heart rate was dangerously high and very irregular, and I was overheating like crazy, so I had to lay on a couch and keep calm for a while before they would even let me stand up. Fortunately, though I did hit my head, I didn’t have a concussion, and I didn’t hurt my back.

I’ve never passed out before and I hope it never happens again.

So, does it seem a little far fetched that two cups of coffee would cause this? Turns out that some of the writers thought the coffee was too weak, so they took it upon themselves to make it about three times stronger on the last day. My poor caffeine-unaccustomed system was subjected to six cups of coffee worth of the stuff over the course of about two hours. Mystery solved.

The whole incident might be well behind me (about three days), but it’s still bothering me. I keep telling myself that it’s okay that I got all that attention, that I shouldn’t feel so mortified, that no one is mad at me or thinks any less of me because I passed out. But I still haven’t brought myself to talk about it to my family or anyone I know out here because I hate the idea of them knowing that I am not invincible. I feel bad that people missed things because of me, that someone else had to step up and run my workshop, and that I scared people. I know that  none of them mind (they all told me so). But I still feel guilty, like I did something wrong.

On the bright side, I got to see jut how much these long distance friends cared about me. I ‘m trying to hold on to the warm glow I get when I think about all the nice things they did to take care of me.

And as for my decision to stay away from coffee from now on, it comes partly from the fact that I kept tasting the stuff for the rest of the day and can’t stand the taste or smell now. I also suffered from a really high level of anxiety which I only found out later was most likely due to the coffee. I think I’d better stay away from the stuff.