Frustrating Things

  1. When someone makes specific plans with specific dates that are agreed upon in writing, and then claims that it was a different plan with different dates and gets really annoyed with you and acts like you’re the mistaken one, as you sit there with a written text record. I’m gonna call these people Plan Gaslighters.
  2. When someone who is a grown ass adult and should be able to control themselves instead drinks most nights and decides to send nasty texts.
  3. When you have to deal with Kindness Sharks. You know them. They’re like loan sharks, but with kindness and/or gifts. They do something nice for you. They give you something. You say, “Thank you!” and then they act like you owe them immense paybacks and try to guilt you into doing everything they want. A gift’s not a gift when it comes with strings! Don’t act like you think you’re so generous, you Kind Shark! You just want people to feel obligated to you!
  4. When you randomly start to feel bad for demeaning actual sharks in a list of frustrating things. Like, poor sharks. They’re just being themselves, just being authentic sharks swimming in the ocean and eating stuff and why do we have to be terrified of them and then use them to label jerky people?
  5. When you have to sit and be socially pleasant and cordial to someone that grates on your every last nerve. At a doctor’s office or in a work environment. Somewhere you can’t be rude and Every Nerve is screaming with irritation. Like…how could this person ever have been someone you chose to spend time with?
  6. When you drop a coin and it rolls waaaaaaay back under the vending machine and you can’t reach it and therefore can’t get the drink you really wanted to settle an irritated stomach. A stomach that is probably irritated from all of the above.
  7. When your Outlook mail intermittently doesn’t work correctly, but it’s always working when IT looks, and then it breaks for good and won’t even open and you’re waiting on IT. And waiting. And waiting.
  8. When you’re so aggravated you can’t focus on your Really Exciting Writing Project, because of all of the above. And then you wonder: why am I bothering with Exciting Project, when it’s about all sorts of liberal things like gender equity and apparently no one in this country gives a shit?
  9. When your country seems headed for complete fascism and all the work you’ve done in your life to increase social justice seems to be meaningless and without purpose, because awful people possess too much political and judicial power.

Helpful Things:

  1. Writing a list of frustrating things. Thanks for putting up with my public therapy.

(hahahahaha, I mis-typed that at first and wrote “pubic therapy,” which actually made me laugh and feel somewhat less frustrated.)

PTSD is a Sneaky Bastard

Content warning: fire, PTSD, anxiety, trauma

 

I almost died in an apartment fire in July 1997. The building burned overnight, the night between July 7th and July 8th. Most likely, teenagers caused the fire (accidentally) by setting off fireworks in the illegally-placed dumpster–the dumpster sitting under the apartment buildings, next to parked cars. The dumpster caught fire and then the spray-foam insulation on the ceiling–the foam that was also against fire code and acted as an accelerant–caught fire. Then the gas tanks of nearby parked cars exploded.

My apartment was right above the parking area, right above where the gas tanks exploded, right above the dumpster.

It was a four alarm fire. Firefighters from four stations rushed to the scene. When the first firefighters arrived, they estimated the fire was burning at a temperature of 2700° and spreading at a rate of 10 feet per second.

I woke up when my windows exploded from the heat to find my apartment surrounded by fire, front and back.

I don’t need to go minute-by-minute through the rest of it. I was trapped. I was convinced in every atom of my being that I was about to die. I didn’t die. I managed to get out. Firefighters are fucking heroes, man, and if it weren’t for their quick response to the scene, I would not be here.

I have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was diagnosed six to eight months after the fire by a thoughtful, humane, person-centered doctor of internal medicine who realized my physical symptoms of stomach upset, heartburn, and throat constriction were the somatic symptoms of PTSD. If she hadn’t asked all the right questions–not just questions about my body, but questions about if I felt safe in my life, how I was sleeping, if I was experiencing anger or threats–if she hadn’t probed, I don’t know how much longer it would have taken me to get help. I am thankful for her.

have gotten help. Over the past 21 years, I’ve seen several therapists and done intense work around the fire. I’ve done EMDR therapy which was, for me, very beneficial. I’ve healed and grown tremendously.

But you know what? PTSD doesn’t ever actually disappear. I can usually manage my PTSD very well–I’m seldom triggered. I no longer think about the fire every minute, every hour, every day, every week, or maybe not even every month. That’s a huge change from the years immediately post-fire. I can light candles! I now cook on a gas stove! Our new house has a fire pit and we made a fire the other day and I didn’t freak out! I watched fireworks over Memorial Day without tears streaming down my face, without my body shaking! (I even enjoyed them!) I recognize, notice, and label my PTSD when it pops its head out of the depths of my psyche.

And yet.

This is the time of year, folks. These last two weeks of June, when my animal brain recognizes the scents on the breeze, the slant of the sun, the feel of the air.

Something’s wrong, my amygdala whispers. Danger is coming.

Danger is coming, my body echoes.

I feel jittery all the time, like I’ve had a whole pot of coffee. I feel restless and I struggle to focus. I’m hypervigilant. I can’t relax. My muscles tense. My stomach clenches. I feel sick, but also hungry, but also sick. I feel like a constant lump is stuck in my throat. I feel like the other shoe will fall. Will another shoe fall? Am I okay? Is everyone I love okay? Who’s not okay? What’s not okay? Something is not okay.

Breathe, Sarah. Breathe.

It’s okay to feel like it’s not okay, I remind myself. This is PTSD. This is your old friend, your old enemy, your old familiar haunting sneaking back into the forefront to recognize this anniversary.

But what if I always feel this bad? What if this time is different? What if I’m losing my mind? I ask myself, hating the frantic tone in my voice.

Today is June 15th, I answer. Every year. Every year you feel this way. Every end of June is hard. Every Fourth of July is significantly awful, as the fireworks explode everywhere. And every year it goes away again. Every year it recedes after you move through it. Every year it clears again as you survive.

Twenty-one years, this July.

Thank all the gods I’ve been alive these last twenty-one years. Thanks to the firefighters. Thanks to the doctor who first said, “PTSD.” Thanks to the four therapists who’ve given me strategies to cope. Thanks to the friends and family who empathize, who listen, who seek to understand, who stay calm and remind me that my calm will return.

And it will. I will be okay.

But these next few weeks are hard for me, folks. They are hard. I will treat myself with care. I will remind myself to breathe. If you see me in the next weeks, please be extra gentle with me.

Sparrow on human hands

 

 

Lessons from the Weary Mover

We recently moved. Just across town, so you’d THINK that would be easier than some of the cross-country moves I’ve made in the past.

You’d be wrong.

Here are some of the Hard Won Lessons I’ve learned in the last month. I’m passing them on to you in case you’re thinking about moving, too.

1. Don’t. cd4

JK. NK.

But really, most of us move for really good reasons. Maybe you got a new job. Maybe you have a growing family and need more room. Maybe you have Nazis as neighbors. Maybe you’re tired of the basement portal to R’lyeh that keeps leaking non-Euclidean geometry into your house.

If you’re moving for a good reason like that, carry on.

If you’re moving for some absurd reason, though. Maybe…just don’t. Cuz this shit’s exhausting.

2. You own MUCH MORE STUFF than you think you do.

You own approximately 5.12 tons of stuff. Yes, you. You, right over there.

Wait, you have kids? I take it back. You now own 5.12 tons of stuff plus 13.7 tons of stuff per child. No joke. That’s an actual, scientifically-calculated number.

3. Most of all of that stuff is nothing you need.

If you move without it, you’ll literally never miss it. Give it away now. Or trash it, if it’s something no one would ever want.

If you haven’t used it in the last year, GET RID OF IT.

4. YMMV on this one, but I find the hardest things to sort through are books and things your kids used to love/play with/wear when they were little.

51bscxsj0tl-_sl500_ac_ss350_

At one point while sorting through our basement, I literally sat and cried over the plastic food my kids used to play with. I remember when they handed me that hot dog and I pretended to eat it! HOW CAN I GET RID OF THIS?

I’m not even talking about the nice, wooden, chop-this-velcroed-fruit fake food. I’m talking about the cheapest, flimsiest bunch of junk food.

Actual tears.

Don’t get me started on the books. Trixie Beldon, man! Yeah, yeah…no one in my house will probably ever read them again. Yeah, you’re right, my kids refused to read them when they were the appropriate ages. No, um, I’m probably not going to read them. But. But. But. But…I LOVED THEM. They had lasting and deep significance in my life! I…I…I………

Okay. Take pictures of those things. Keep the stuff someone might actually play with again or actually read again. If not? Then just keep the picture.

YOU CAN DO THIS.

5. At some point, you’ll look around, pat yourself on the back, and feel like you’ve made great headway packing up your whole house! BUT DON’T FALL INTO THAT TRAP.

The final 10% of the crap that you own takes 90% of the time to pack. And you’re going to keep discovering more and more and more and more stuff hidden in random places. Plus, you’re going to end up with a bunch of boxes at the end labeled “Misc,” “Odds & Ends,” and “What Even Is This, No One Knows.”

whatisthis

 

6. Unpacking might be worse than packing. It will take approximately 1,268 days for you to actually settle into the new house without stumbling across yet another box or something that needs to be organized. I haven’t hit that point yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

 

Um. So good luck with your move.