The morning started out by waking up earlier than usual. I find this personally offensive. My body has the audacity to start yawning and slowing down by three p.m. as I am trying to finish work most days; the least it can do is to take advantage of every second of available time to snooze.
Even as I tried to go back to sleep for another hour, I knew it was fruitless. Sitting up, I took stock of my feelings and emotions. Just so we’re on the same page, feelings are the sensations in our bodies, and emotions are how we interpret those sensations in our minds. For example, as I sat up, I felt weight on my chest, a pressure around my heart, and my neck felt stiff and sore. My emotions related to these physical sensations could include sadness, anger, and disappointment, to name a few.
The day didn’t improve as I arrived to telecommute from a local coffee shop. I was still recovering from a monster PTSD trigger from a couple of days earlier. Daylight savings time was messing with my system in every way. My bank account was overdrawn, due to a payment I forgot to log in my budget. I needed time off and didn’t have enough to cover going to a friend’s wedding. The barista made my coffee wrong. I had to make a decision that will likely deeply disappoint one of my children.
It was one of those days where I felt like my arm was broken but really I only had a scratch, and a shallow one at that. The day and my feelings and emotions were intense and long and hard. Also, that’s what she said.
I floundered for a moment and then remembered that I have power and choices. Even when everything in life feels hard, we have the power and skills to help get us back on track.
Sit and Watch
Feelings are hard (that’s what she said). They fill up my chest cavity and invade my upper and lower back. They spread down into my gut and hips. Sometimes I can feel these sensations throb in time with my heartbeat.
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder over a decade ago, I’ve been practicing how to feel these sensations, identify the emotions, and process them all in healthy ways. And still, when the feelings and emotions are intense and scary, I remind myself that I have yet to die from them, even though sometimes I feel like they will kill me.
Instead of spiraling down with these emotions, I can watch them, curious. Or I can ride them like a wave. This is a more compassionate way to approach what it means to feel after trauma, helping to process emotions that often feel like they will overtake us. I sit and breathe and watch them, like keeping an eye on toddlers running around a park, curious and nonjudgmental.
I’m not a fan of the whole, “There’s always something to be grateful for” thing. I do, however, like to give myself reality checks. After all, more than one thing can be true at a time, and that applies when life feels super hard (that’s what she said).
While the parts of my day referenced above were annoying, there were related truths. My partner helped me through the monster trigger with understanding and compassion. I have overdraft protection, which means no fees for this one bank account slip up. I work remotely, so I can work from anywhere, including across the country while I’m there for my friend’s wedding, so I can take less time off. The barista remade my drink and we laughed about our miscommunication. My kid will likely not be as disappointed as I imagine, and if so, we will get through it together.
Recognizing the reality of the situations helped me to feel less chaotic.
Take a Break
Sometimes life gets hard and we have a lot of stuff to do. We need to function. Work needs to be done, dinner needs to be made, family needs attention. And sometimes sitting with feelings and checking our realities can take time and feel hard to make time for.
You know what? We’re allowed to take breaks. When I start to feel really tired from all of this processing, I need to do something different for a short period of time. Give my neurons a break.
Have a snack. Go for a short walk. Put your head down. Watch ten minutes of your favorite show, i.e. The Office. Stretch. Drink some water. All of these can help, and all of them also qualify as self care activities (#winning!).
Just because we can do life by ourselves doesn’t mean we have to. This is the part that’s hard for a lot of us (that’s what she said) – reaching out for help.
One of the easiest ways to process feelings (body) and emotions (mind) is to talk about them with a person who is safe and compassionate and understanding. Also someone who makes you laugh, to add some reality and levity to the situation.
Maybe this isn’t a time to talk, but being alone doesn’t sound so great either. Reach out to people who love you and can simply be there while you process. Hang out, take a break, have a snack, and talk when you’re ready.