Self-Care in the Aftermath of Trauma & Abuse Isn't One Size Fits All....

The topic of self-care is all the rage these days, and I think that's fantastic. Domestic violence websites discuss the importance of self-care after leaving an abusive relationship, but I didn't heed their advice as much as I should have.

Waste time taking care of me? Pffft. No, I know what I'll do: I'll pretend like nothing catastrophic happened and throw myself back into working full time, getting my MBA at night, etc., etc. I'll pretend like I didn't just lose almost all of my personal belongings (I literally got out of that condo with only what I could fit in my Jetta) after giving this man every last dime I had. I'll pretend I'm not starting over from scratch. I'll pretend that the man I thought I loved didn't sexually assault me. Just cover your eyes, close your ears, and keep walking, Michelle. Keep running.

It took three dissociations before I took this whole self-care thing seriously (and an actual diagnosis on dissociation part II, which occurred as a result of Lord Voldemort and his lovely wife starting to f*ck with my environment before they even launched their sloppily-executed frame up...don't disappoint me, raptors, by telling me you haven't figured out that it takes two to make a thing go...well, not right...but go). 

Three years of abuse and trauma (two years in an abusive relationship + one more year fighting Mr. Con Artist extraordinaire as he and his wife try to frame me) is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's a lot to process. I mentioned in a previous post that I know my triggers now. I also recognize signs of my PTSD getting worse in response to extra stress in my environment.

Admittedly, I haven't done myself any favors by aggressively attempting to complete my MBA so I can walk this May with all of the friends I've made in this program. I'm back at it with two difficult classes. I'm also starting a business and doing marketing consulting on the side. And then there's the issue of dealing with all of the ongoing court drama and the sudden surge in my popularity due to the media attention on my case. But a girl's got to live, and I'm doing the best I can to be what I've always been. Resilient. Positive. Optimistic. Friendly.

For me, the signs that the PTSD are flaring up are pretty straightforward. I start to feel my heart race. I experience insomnia, which leaves me feeling a little zombiesque during the day. The vertigo sets in; that's the fun part where you feel just a little off balance and out of whack all day long. It's a bit like being sea sick, and it's hard to focus on people's faces. 

It started to set in for me about two days ago and hasn't gone away yet. It's my body and brain's gentle reminder that I'm overdue for taking a deep breath and worrying a little less about everyone else's expectations and a little more about me and what I want and need to do to be healthy. To feel like I have ownership over my life. 

I actually went to Cars & Coffee this morning to scope it out for a possible Babes with Coffee pop up (we're a go! in a few weeks though cause I like to get all the permits and do it the right way, my raptor friends), and while I was thoroughly enjoying the alone time and all of the beautiful cars, I was also incredibly frustrated by the vertigo. It felt like there were a decent amount of women at this event (and puppies!!), but I was having a heck of a time focusing on people's faces. Sorry, Jackie, if it ends up being a bust! 

Let's get to the point, though. For anyone else recovering from abuse or dealing with PTSD, here are some tried and true methods that work great for me:

1. Exercise. Exercise. More exercise.

I've always loved exercise. It releases happy endorphins and calms me down. I'm a big distance runner and hiker. I love the sunshine and the fresh air. What's great about exercise--particularly this type of cardio--is that it gives you plenty of time to process thoughts and emotions in a zero pressure environment, which is especially important for me as a HSP (I'm not going to go into this in too much detail here because it would be opening Pandora's Box, but it's tied to why I'm more susceptible to abuse than some other people).

2. Lots and Lots of Alone Time

Tied to being a HSP, I recharge by having time to myself. Don't get me wrong: I love people. In fact, most people mistake me for an extrovert because I've adapted and developed extroverted skills over the course of my life. But being an introvert is more about how you recharge and how you get energy. Some people are energized by being in social settings. For me, it's fun but exhausting. 

Since I am a HSP, I also pick up on and absorb other people's moods. Not always so fun when other people have high anxiety or are a little intense. So, correspondingly, if I am going to spend time with other people, I am more selective about these people. For example, it's not a great time to meet someone new if the PTSD is flaring up. Meeting someone new is exhausting and overwhelming for a HSP because we process so much freaking sensory data. I pick up on everything. I'm that girl who hears the song in the background no one else can hear until I point it out. And hey, it comes with perks. HSPs tend to be highly creative and very intelligent. We're empathetic creatures because we really can feel what you feel. So we're kinda cool in an awkward sorta way.

If you do have PTSD, there are probably going to be times where you have to get away from other people. They're in your space. They don't get that you don't want to chat. They get offended if they don't get what they need from you in that moment. Maybe they don't respect boundaries very well. But whatever the case, they are making your triggers go off like mad, and you can feel your stress levels rise just being around them. And you know what? It's okay to leave. It's okay to take care of yourself first.

3. Drive Your Heart Out

It's possible I'm the only person who enjoys driving to this degree, but honest to goodness, I will take the long route to get somewhere so that I can a) spend more time driving and b) cruise down PCH, which is literally one of my favorite things to do. I'm pretty sure it releases the same amount of endorphins for me that a good run does. The weather is so often beautiful, and you can roll down your windows and feel some of those proverbial demons float away on the breeze.

4. Sing Your Heart Out

For me, singing is closely related to driving because most of my singing happens in the car. They've also done studies on this. Singing along to music lowers your blood pressure and has a positive impact on your stress levels. I find it works better when you really get into it. ;)

5. That Whole Yoga/Meditation Thing

I'll be honest: I've never been a big yogi girl. But I recognize the benefits, and I used meditation in jail to stay as calm as humanly possible in an extremely stressful environment. Meditation just seems to work. It worked for me when I was hyperventilating after my Godfather told me I could be in there for six months to a year before the DA even looked at my case. I thought I was going to die of a heart attack in that claustrophobic little cell. It's possible meditation saved my life that day.

6. PINTEREST

There's nothing like inspirational quotes to keep you going when PTSD's got you down, and Pinterest is chalk full of them. Add to that the fact that you can build your dream life--wardrobe, car, beautifully decorated home, and newfound gourmet cooking skills--in this little app, and it's like a piece of virtual heaven on earth. I've also found some great comedic material on there, and laughter, my friends, is the best defense against just about everything. I found The Two Monks series on The Toast through Pinterest, and I was laughing so hard I was crying.

7. Puppies

Will someone open up a puppy farm already? Seriously, I would pay good money to visit a puppy farm, especially one with a good selection of breeds. I'd like to see lots of retrievers (golden and lab), some Bernese Mountain Dogs, some Weimaners, Border Collies, a French bulldog, a Shiba Inu (those are the ones that look like foxes), and some Springer Spaniels.

Just no chihuahuas. I was attacked by a chihuahua when I was little, and I was so afraid to hurt it that I did nothing to defend myself. Instead, that little thing hurt me and shredded my top. I've been scared of chihuahuas ever since. Hmm...I feel like this is a metaphor for recent events somehow...like law enforcement officers are the chihuahuas of my life? I dunno.

But I take every chance I get to pet a puppy. I even talk to them because I'm pretty sure they understand me better than the human population. Dogs have amazing intuition.

8. Take Long Ass Showers

I feel like I have the Emma Watson halo effect here. She just told Into the Gloss that she takes two baths a day because nothing bad can happen in the bathtub. I couldn't agree more, Ms. Watson. Like Emma, I unabashedly take insanely long, scalding hot showers because, well, I just need it. I really do. It feels good. 

Ms. Watson is an active feminist who extoles the virtues of Fur Oil. I didn't know Fur Oil was a thing. Now I do. There's nothing better than being able to say you learn something new everyday.

Finally, here's my most important piece of advice to you: don't listen to anything I write. No, really. Only you know what you need to heal. Figure it out, and then go do it. And don't feel bad about taking the time to take care of yourself! 

I can tell you from experience that everybody has advice for what you should do or what you need, but they haven't walked in your shoes. They don't know what you need or want like you do.