We all get overwhelmed; get stuck in traffic, late for a dinner date or your toddler decided to have a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store. Yup, I think we have all been there! Life can get crazy, but what happens when you add those daily stressors to someone who is also dealing with PTSD?
This morning I was reminded of what it is like to be so overwhelmed that you struggle to cope. It was three years ago, and I had woken from a night of terror. I felt frozen in the past. A cold sweat had covered my body and soaked my sheets. As I lay there, I tried to decide if I was really in danger or if I was safe in my bed. I was completely disoriented. I took some deep relaxing breaths, and I felt my racing heart slow down. Also, my brain seemed to be grasping that I was safe, lying beside my sleeping husband.
I thought that perhaps if I got up, I would feel better. As my feet touched the floor, I felt the chilliness of the floor. I quickly found my slippers and I went downstairs. Although the fear of the night terror was still with me there was a part of me that was thankful, I was no longer in that bed.
I walked towards my kitchen and saw that the dog that staying with us had had an “accident” on our kitchen floor. I barely had a moment to process this when my pre-teen son came running up behind me to tell me that he was having a nosebleed! I could not compute what my son was saying. My brain was still foggy from my nighttime battles so instead of responding I stared at him for a moment in complete disbelief. I watched the blood drip off his fingers as he tried to hold back the blood. After a moment or two, I did regain my focus and told my son to go up to the bathroom where we dealt with his bloody nose. Soon I had him sitting down, with his head tilted forward and the bleeding slowed. With the bleeding mostly under control, I took a moment to wake my husband to tell him what was waiting on our kitchen floor as I could not cope with everything this morning. He got up as I pulled my son's bloody sheets off of his bed and threw them into the laundry. As the washing machine started to fill so did my eyes. Tears slid down my cheeks as some of the pent-up energy from this morning started to release. My cup had officially runneth over.
There is a theory among those who deal with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it is called, "The PTSD Cup Theory." This theory explains how a person copes or doesn’t cope with extra stress. Please refer to the diagram.
Believe it or not, we do have good stress in our lives. Good stress is getting out of bed, going to work, making supper, or any other day-to-day task. You can see in all of the cups there is a level of good stress. The second cup shows what happens to a person who does not have PTSD when bad stress comes into their life. Bad stress can consist of getting fired from your job, a breakup of a relationship or paying bills for example. The third cup is someone with PTSD. Their cup is already nearly filled to the top with their day-to-day good stress and the trauma that they have gone through. When additional stress is added, say a night terror and you add in a child with a bloody nose or a dog's accident in the kitchen well their cup will overflow. Their reaction to a complete breakdown may seem irrational to the average person, but if you understand PTSD, you are aware that they have nowhere to hold that extra stress so their cup overflows, and often there will be tears or even outbursts of anger as they are completely overwhelmed.
That is where I was that morning; my PTSD cup had overflowed. It was all too much. I get that. I see that now, but that morning as the tears streamed down my face, I felt lost.
How can you cope when your cup overflows? Self-care, I believe, is especially important during those times. Try to find some quiet time where you can write, perhaps draw, paint or color, listen to relaxing music, meditation, or do yoga to name a few things. Whatever works for you to ground you is what I suggest you do. Then I would suggest reaching out to your support systems; friends, family, and/or Professionals. They can perhaps ease any extra burdens you are carrying. It is important to remember that you are not alone. There are people available to support you. If you would like to chat with me about this or any other concern you may have, please send me a message below.
Janet Rhodes BA, CCTP, NLPP, RC.t