A few weeks ago, I left one job to take on a new full-time job, which didn’t work out. Simultaneously, I finished a series of graduate education courses I’d been taking. This combination of events abruptly left a gaping hole in my usually full schedule. I went from working with clients 10 – 12 hours a day to working no more than an hour a day.

When this new schedule of mine started two weeks ago, I was very nervous about having so much free time. However, since I have some savings in the bank and am well aware of my past pattern of avoiding having any free time at all in my constant quest to shore up my fragile ego, I didn’t immediately start looking for another job. I thought that having a less structured day to play with would be good practice for me. I have plenty to catch up on around the house, many tasks that I have put off lately, and I also realized that this would provide an excellent exposure to that scary feeling of “not enough to do”.

I found myself panicking over rthe thought “I am alone right now and have nothing to do that makes me feel worthwhile”

I had joined a local fitness club and I started going more often. When I was there working out or in an exercise class, I simultaneously felt wonderful and also lost and alone. I wrote a list of things I needed and wanted to do over the coming weeks, and since I’ve learned to relax about things like that, I started slowly working my way through the list. I did a lot of conscious breathing, particularly whenever I found myself panicking over the thought, “I am alone right now and have nothing to do that makes me feel worthwhile”. I began to marvel at how much progress I’ve made with the CPTSD because I was actually staying fairly relaxed around the house, still able to get out, not being overwhelmed by the creeping sense that my house is the only safe place in my life and all those big scary thoughts that seem so fantastically important when you grow up frightened and alone all of the time.

Due to the circumstances outlined at the start of this story, I have just three clients right now, and I see them one or two times a week for an hour or 30 minutes. I’m being very exact here.  Out of 168 hours in a week, I need to show up and be responsible for about three of those hours. Simple, right?

I was so busy learning to relax, breathing through any random fears that bubbled up, and pleased with myself for getting very difficult things done (like filling out my tax organizer after a lifetime of parentally instilled fear that I could run out of money at any moment due to some random cosmic event so I better not go through my finances at all) that I began to forget my client meeting times.

This is particularly excruciating because I advertise myself partly as an executive functioning coach. Yes, I teach people tools and techniques so they can be on time, never forget a meeting, and as well as organizational skills. Last week, I managed to forget my 7 pm, 30-minute meeting with a student. When I opened my email while watching TV, I was astounded and shocked to see a message from the parents asking if I was going to be on Zoom soon. I made an excuse and asked if they wanted to reschedule. They were very nice but did not want to reschedule, so they said we would just meet again next week. Inexplicitly, last night, which was a Monday night, I managed to forget it again.

This is a pattern of error that might be indicative of some real increasing lack of responsibility and even some mysterious degeneration

It is difficult when you have CPTSD to deal with a mistake. One mistake: I can get over that, I can make an excuse, I can offer a redo. However, in my mind, this is a pattern of error that might be indicative of some real increasing lack of responsibility and even some mysterious degeneration. Naturally, in my CPTSD mindset, this is now a bit of a catastrophe. This is real. I have failed twice which means there’s a pattern of badness that seems to be out of my control. Who knows what I might do next? Plus, there are the parents to consider. I’ll bet they hate me now or at the very least, think that I’m an idiot. This is a big problem since I base most of my feelings about myself on how I perceive other people’s feelings about me at any given moment.

This is starting to feel like a five-alarm fire

I know this all gets exaggerated in my head. I can deal with this. It’s not a big deal. I won’t let this turn into grinding anxiety. I won’t start obsessing about it. I’m going to see it as a passing thing. I have plenty of memories of my responsible actions from the past. I can do this.

At four a.m. the next morning, it turned into a thing. I woke up and instantly started thinking about what I had done, and my body was flooded with fear. I felt the grinding of heavy metal gears in my stomach, and I felt the sensation that everything was wrong, there was danger, and anything could happen right now. I am aware enough to know that I can’t block the thought of my horrible “mistake” so I try the tactic of thinking about it even more, saying over and over in my head, ” I made a mistake, I made. mistake” which sounds counter-intuitive but just like any word that you repeat over and over to yourself, this can eventually cause it to lose all meaning and seem like nonsense. I did deep breathing, turned on a Kabat Zinn meditation video, petted my dogs, and buried my hand in their fur, but sadly, nothing really worked.

Finally, around 6 a.m., I staggered out of bed. The dogs were so tired they didn’t want to go outside for their business in the backyard. I was so tired, I could barely move. It was still completely dark outside. Slowly, I started my routine. Wash my hands, run the hot water for the dishes in the sink, start the eggs frying, let the sink fill up with soapy water, eat breakfast while watching a TV show, take my vitamins, brush my teeth, wash the dishes and do my exercise routine int he basement. My gargantuan “mistake” (maybe I should more accurately call it my “crime”) began to fade slowly, only popping periodically into my conscience as opposed to metaphorically whacking me in the face every second. I continue to feel like I’ve done some terrible thing, but I’m starting to be able to push back into reality. Maybe the parents hate me, maybe they don’t. Maybe I’m a stupid failure, maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ll lose this client, maybe I won’t. It doesn’t actually matter to me financially since I make a miniscule amount for their business, in fact, I don’t really feel like I’m needed by this kid at all, which might be part of the root of the problem.

My CPTSD means I need to be needed, or I feel isolated, lost, and alone, two and a half years old again and back at my drunken uncle’s home. However, reality is starting to reassert itself; my “grievous sin” will continue to haunt me today, but I also know that it will gradually lose its power. I have come a long way with this overwhelming issue in the past year. The fact that I’m 64 and that I have suffered from this issue for 62 ½ years with no relief until recently makes me sad for myself sometimes, but I also realize that I could have gone on this way forever with no end in sight. I tell myself that all those years of top therapists who failed to identify this issue shouldn’t make me feel so agonizingly angry at times, but I also realize that for thousands of years, people with epilepsy were told they were infected with devils, and there wasn’t any treatment until the twentieth century. I guess it’s all part of learning to hold two contradictory emotions in my head and being okay with that, anger that I was never properly diagnosed balanced by my thanks that now that the problem has been identified at long last, effective treatments exist. It is a blessing.

The nice thing is that I know this feeling of being a perverted criminal will end, that I have tools and techniques to lessen its severity, and most importantly, that I have a rock-solid belief that this feeling will end, that I will continue to grow from this type of exposure, and that my life will continue to improve. That’s pretty amazing right there.


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