Back in February, all on one day, the engine in my vehicle began to make noise upon acceleration and when I arrived at work after praying my way there, I was laid off. Talk about the start to a very bad day!
While I was able to find a new, better paying job rather quickly (shout out to the Wounded Warrior Project veteran employment efforts), I was finally able to purchase a new vehicle a couple of weeks ago and let me tell you, I did not realize the stress I was under with that dark cloud looming over my head. At any given moment, I was worried I would be without transportation for myself and my daughter. You know it is bad when the dealership you are working with (Matt Vann at Baxter Ford is the BEST) gives you a loaner vehicle while you work out the details. Matt actually said, “I drove your car, so trust me, I know how bad you need a new one. I would GIVE you a car if I could!”
Once I had the car situation figured out, it seemed like I could actually breathe again. I didn’t realize the pressure I was feeling on my chest until it was removed. Such relief!
Through the past few months, I could feel a flare up rearing it’s ugly head. This is when inflammation in my body rises, I have more arthritic pain, swelling, nerve conduction issues, extreme fatigue, difficulty with my mobility, headaches, difficulty concentrating, bloating, and just an overall unwell feeling. This is what happens when I am under excessive amounts of stress.
I had injured my hamstring and calf a couple of months ago after a hard leg day during a yoga session. “Just go a little further, even if you feel like you can’t,” said the instructor. THAT was a very, very bad idea. I only wanted to work out some of the negative energy I could feel spinning around in my chest but ended up with an injury that would set me back in my progress.
Despite my injury and inability to train for the weeks leading up to it, I still ran the Lincoln Half Marathon on May 7th, a race I look forward to every year. I finished, but was disappointed with a time 1 minute longer than my best time. Granted, I have never been a fast runner, but I do like to improve with each race. And I am a bit of a perfectionist and my greatest critic.
It was also rather warm and humid, causing many half and full marathoners to require IV fluids. I was one that was forced to go with a medical volunteer after my calf seized up on the table during my complimentary post-race massage. I begrudgingly complied.
Since the race my body has been fighting me. While I have still participated in some veteran-focused events the past few weeks, I have suffered greatly afterward, even waking up several times a night because of the pain. It can be so frustrating to have the heart and spirit to do great things, but have a body that refuses to cooperate.
Stress is a major trigger for these issues, which have been diagnosed as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and migraine headaches, in addition to PTSD. There are times where it becomes so bad that I have severe difficulty and pain trying to walk, and those are the times when I have received an MRI to check for signs of multiple sclerosis (MS). No plaques have been detected, so no MS, at least not right now. Still, it does not really help with the fact that these things seriously disrupt my life and my ability to be the best mother I can to my sweet girl.
But as any Marine will tell you, we are hard to keep down. I push through the pain, the fatigue, every time a flare up strikes. That is why I am so devoted to exercise, to reduce these effects of stress and keep myself mobile. If I stop, like I was forced to for a time with the leg injury, a flare up happens and I must fight to get through the day, the week, the month until it finally dissipates.
So why does stress affect my body and health in such a drastic manner?
Post-traumatic stress keeps your body in a hyper-alert state. This means that life stuff like job loss or vehicle issues can cause what is already a high level of stress in your body to skyrocket, meaning hormones, body regulatory systems, and inflammatory factors.
I once heard it described using cups of water, something I think illustrates how stress affects PTSD patients in the most simplistic manner.
Imagine a person without PTSD has a cup, maybe with a little water in the bottom but nothing substantial. A person with PTSD has the same type of cup only it is half full, never decreasing in volume. When more water is added to both cups at the exact same rate, the person with PTSD’s cup will overflow first due to the always present higher level of water to begin with. This can be why we respond differently under certain circumstances that may not seem so bad to some but are to be completely overwhelming to us.
Another reason to check on the veterans in your life and make sure they have the support they need, especially in times of even slight hardship.
While I try to keep my stress manageable, I laugh whenever I am told to “reduce your stress levels” by clinicians like it is a choice to have life happen to you. I am a single mother (her father is many hours away, so really, I do this all on my own), which is not something I can change. I have PTSD, again something I can not change although God knows I wish it were possible.
Hence, I run. I run out my anger, my frustration. I lift weights, focusing on form and breath, exhaling the negative energy that will otherwise consume me. Sometimes I do yoga and hurt myself (haha), but I will not let that deter me from an awesome outlet for releasing the negative and drawing in the positive. I will be back in a studio soon enough.
Whatever happens in your life, whatever negative energy is thrown your way, keep moving, keep working, and never, ever give up. I won’t let PTSD defeat me, and neither should you.