Surviving A Christmas Break-In

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
–Cynthia Occelli

A quick glance at my internet searches over the last few weeks and it tells a story all its own, from oldest to most recent:

  • Phantom smells?
  • Smelling gasoline when there is none
  • Brain fog after Radio Frequency Ablation?
  • Would nerve ablation cause phantom smells?
  • Can a cold turn into the flu?
  • Can the flu cause depersonalization?
  • Depersonalization vs Dissociation
  • Shaking left hand and blurred vision
  • Debilitating brain fog and tremors
  • Accepting trauma related depersonalization

And Last: Coming back from a flu with PTSD

Trauma is sneaky sometimes. When you have a multi-layered past and a tendency towards self-blame to begin with…a simple “illness” can be disastrous on the psyche of a person who is still climbing out of the quicksand that is complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even for a yoga, breathing and mindfulness teacher who lives to help others through this very same conundrum…it can be frighteningly easy to slip over the edge and suddenly forget your most basic survival, self-care and resiliency skills.

Having grown up in a personal world of fear, guilt, shame and blame…simmered on the stove with people pleasing, anxiety and shattered self esteem…it is easy for me to make these types of ridiculous assumptions, if I am not careful:

If the weather is bad, it is my fault.
If the weather is good, it is a fluke.

If someone is unhappy, it is my fault.
If someone is happy, it must be an accident.
If my body gets hurt, it is my fault.
If my body feels good, it won’t last.

See the set up? This is a sure-fire works-every-single-time recipe for a breakdown in the command center of my person.

I’ll explain:

This December I had lots and lots of plans to pour myself into my work with first responders, including a 3-day peer support training and 5 consecutive days at a police academy training. My husband was sick, my co-workers were sick, my students were sick, the chatty checkout guy at Trader Joes was sick…and yet, I still felt like I could control the inevitable.

After managing to stave it off with rest, diet and hiding in the house…it hit me…HARD…I got the crud.

Within a few days, a seemingly innocent cold turned into a torrential flu, leaving me couch-bound for over two weeks. Not only did I miss the last day of peer support, but I missed the whole training at the academy. I canceled classes and private sessions and all therapy and doctors appointments. To me, in this vulnerable state…this translated as failure.

Logically, I knew I was only sick…and there wasn’t anything I could “do” but get better. But it swallowed me whole…and it took captive of my body, my common sense and my ability to think or feel.

No exaggeration – I had a breakdown.

A few days in I started to feel remote and disconnected from my body. I often use the term “fluffy” to describe this state to my therapist. It is as if my brain is encased in cotton, and though I can see my limbs and hear sounds…I am separated from my senses all at once. The world becomes a bunch of marbles tumbling around in a dryer. This disconnection from myself sets off a cacophony of panic and fear. Depersonalization. Dissociation. I am not in this world.

I have finally lost my mind. I knew life was too good to be true. I am broken.

I feel very lucky. I have studied trauma and I teach about trauma. I have been through decades of therapy. A part of me knew that this sudden tug-of-war between personalities was not real. But my body…my body felt invaded.

My body was no longer mine. The battle was on.

I started a mental inventory. What is wrong with me? Have I gone off the deep end? Have I finally lost it? I can’t think clearly. I can’t even read my email. Nothing tastes right. Nothing is making any sense. I smell gasoline where there is none! I can’t see myself. I am terrified. What if this never ends…

What if – I am having a breakdown?

I begin a quick Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) trick to test my thoughts.

Thought: Am I having a breakdown? Action: What is happening right now to make me think this?

I am sick as hell. I missed my trainings. I had to cancel my classes. I feel out of sorts. I can’t think and I feel underwater. I am numb. I feel lost.  I feel no hope. I am terrified this will never end…

Thought: Am I having a breakdown? Action: Is this thought true? What is the evidence?

Yes. It sure as hell feels true! I am having trouble thinking. My hands are shaking. I can’t make sense out of anything. My eyes are blurry. I’m having a panic attack. I don’t feel like I can even carry on a conversation. My texts messages seem to be popping out of a dimensional view finder. This is scary. I am going crazy. I belong in a padded cell. I have not felt this bad in a long, long time. I am afraid.

Thought: Am I having a breakdown? Action: What if the opposite were true? What is the evidence?

It’s December 2017. I am here. I am alive.  The worst is over. This is just a set back. I’m just sick. It’s not my fault. I am successful and have a loving marriage. I love my family and friends. I love my students and I’ll celebrate 8 years without a drink this Christmas…

I thought about what the past few months have entailed. I had plenty of evidence to support why I *might* be feeling a bit out of sorts. It all made sense. So why was I so mad at myself for not feeling well?

Why? Why is it that when the weather is bad, I feel it is my fault?
Why? Why is it that when the weather is good, I assume it’s a fluke?
What if a red fish is just a red fish…and I am just sick?

Self – Listen! The story your mind is telling you right now is no longer true. 

Oh. My body and mind are telling me stories that are no longer true. 

Ding. Trauma and Resilience. This was it. The moment in time where I had to DECIDE to be resilient.

I quickly assumed the seat of the teacher: What is my challenge? How can I help myself? What would I tell a student or friend going through this? What are the lessons here? What can I learn? I literally had to ask myself – What would Ti tell me to do if she were here?

From A Break Down to a Break In

I turned towards my desk, spying some of my notes around me – “Keep Going!” “Break…Then OPEN.” “Let the good secrets out, too.” “Follow Directions, Look for Signs.” “Left foot, right foot. Breathe.”

I did the very first thing I normally do any time I feel disconnected, overwhelmed or unable to breathe…I got on the floor and started talking to myself.

Out loud, a message to my brain and body: “Brain, body. Thank you. You guys are so on it! Thank you so much for being so alert and for trying to protect me. I have good news. You’re just sick. It isn’t anything bad that you’ve done. Everyone gets sick, Ti. Listen to your body and rest. If you can’t think clearly…no biggie…I promise it will pass.”

Then—I got into Action and wrote down the following instructions to myself:

Step 1: Breathe – Breathe In, Breathe Out, then repeat.
Step 2: Find a touchstone in the present – Where are my feet right now? What day is it?
Step 3: Come to Your Senses – Can I find 5 colors? 5 sounds?
Step 4: Basic self-care – Eat, Rest and Hydrate.
Step 5: Use your words – Tell someone…even if it sounds crazy. Reach out. WRITE.
Step 6: Accept that you feel this way, then Forgive yourself…you’ve done nothing wrong or bad.
Step 7: Laugh. Pull out that trusty dark ass sense of humor that has saved you countless times before.
Step 8: Embrace Transience – Know that everything in life is temporary
Step 9: LOOK for evidence…could this be old stuff?
Step 10: Trust. You are not going crazy after all, and this will pass.
Step 11: Talk to your body and brain:
Tell your body, it is safe now.
Tell your brain, is it safe now.
Tell the inside you, the little you, you are safe now.
Tell the inside you, the adult you, you are safe now.
Tell the inside you, the future you, you are safe now.

Trauma. Wow. It is real. Say hello to the imprinted reptilian patterns coming out of the fibers of your being…not to haunt you…not to kill you…but to protect you. Say “Thank you.” Then give those pieces and parts of you a new job description…give them permission to breathe and step back.

This is your Yoga. This is it. This is what you teach. Move through it with your breath. Trust the process. Remember, you are breathing. All is going to be okay. You are safe…

Is it easy? No. Not at all! But it is easy, too. The simple things are the hardest to remember when we are lost, overwhelmed and not feeling like ourselves. Be kind and gentle this year if you, too, find yourself underwater, under the weather or outside yourself for any reason. Remind yourself to breathe and start again.

And with that, you have now seen how a very scary, earth shattering “breakdown” could transform, just like that, into a “Break In.”

Reader…if you remember nothing else from this missive, remember that you are not as alone as it feels…and that it won’t last forever.

For the action minded, remember this mantra, and say it out loud:

I am breathing in, 
I’m breathing out,
All is well in this moment…

So what do I do next time the entire world crashes and I succumb to the crud?

Read this post, of course. Breathe, and start again. It really is that simple.

Keep kissing,

The Cockroach

Copyright © 2019 Kissing The Cockroach® All Rights Reserved.

~ by Kissing The Cockroach® on January 14, 2018.

2 Responses to “Surviving A Christmas Break-In”

  1. I feel like I just went to a really good therapy session. Thank you for sharing this. I’m going through a stressful time and find myself fighting to stay present. This was a wonderful reminder. 🙂

    Glad you’re feeling better too! That flu going around is a nasty beast.

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