Thursday, October 4, 2012

PTSD and Chasing Dreams

Lately I've been dealing with more stress and anxiety than usual — and my normal amount is plenty, so this is quite an unwelcome visitor.

I know I can attribute some of it to a mild case of PTSD ever since my house was broken into, since I've become hypervigilant about setting my home alarm, jumping at small noises, and otherwise living in a state of fear in my own home (home formerly being my safe zone away from the fears of being away from home).

For instance, what recently sounded like the snap of a close-range gunshot inside my house sent me running in full panic into my bathroom where I locked the door and lay in the bathtub for 20 minutes. I was convinced somebody had entered my house and shot at me, and since my home alarm wasn't set, I thought I was a dead woman. This sort of thing has happened on more than one occasion, so I'm definitely thinking I have PTSD.

Then there's the situation in Syria, where my dad's family lives. My cousins, aunts, and uncles who haven't already fled Syria are living like prisoners in their homes, and what has turned into a drawn-out crisis seems to have no end. I dream several nights a week that I am there, among the destruction, and wake up in a state of panic and despair.

And something very odd and disturbing has been happening in my own neighborhood. Somebody is killing kittens — the feral neighborhood kittens related to the seven I saved earlier this year — and dumping their bodies within a half mile of my house. I don't think this is directly related to my rescue efforts, but rather, a cruel person's solution to the feral cat problem in my neighborhood. For my health, I was trying to go on walks a couple times a week, but now I'm afraid I'll see another soaking, drowned kitten or dead kittens in a plastic baggy.

As an empath, a highly sensitive person, I'm finding it hard not to be affected by the aftermath of my break-in, the violence in Syria, and the animal abuse in my neighborhood. All the relaxation exercises in the world — i.e. meditation, deep breathing, visualization, herbs — aren't doing a thing to help, either. I guess it's my darn genetic mutations and brain parasites, happy to lend anxiety a hand.

But, at least, a couple weeks ago I got away from it all and went to check out Tennessee, which was a lot of fun, even though I was sicker than I hoped to be. You'll hear a lot of Lymies say that traveling is really hard for us, almost unbearable. Our bodies seem to crumble under the burden of flying and being in new places, since we're suddenly exposed to different environmental conditions such as changes in altitude, different drinking water, different air pollution, different humidity levels, different bedding, different airborne allergens like dust and mold, and especially a change in time zones which disrupts our sleep schedule and can be very detrimental. All of these factors do affect our already highly-unstable bodies which seem as though they are constantly waiting to crumble at the hands of, well, something.

As a natural explorer who is also extremely independent, I have taken many solo trips to new places in my lifetime, and they've always been challenging, albeit rewarding. Well, it was disconcerting (to say the least) — not to mention a reality check — to get the overwhelming sense that I just can't do things like this anymore. Not in my condition.

It was really, really hard. My body felt like it was being attacked by a million aliens. All my symptoms came back with a vengeance — insomnia, allergies, stomach aches, POTS (difficulty standing), fatigue, disorientation, sore muscles, inability to control my bladder (I had six urinary accidents in one day), spleen pain, liver pain, neck pain, hip pain, irritability, crying spells, the list goes on....

Halfway through my trip, I sat in my motel bed staring at the ceiling and thought, "What was I thinking flying across the country for a week of travel? How foolish of me."

On day four, an hour and a half spent in Chattanooga's Ruby Falls cave provided much relief from what was probably an inflammatory condition throughout my body. I entered the humid, mineral-rich cave for recreational purposes and came to discover an unanticipated side effect: feeling temporarily healed. It wasn't until after I left the cave with abundant energy, clear thinking, and less pain, that I learned about the healing benefits of caves. The minerals, negative ions, super clean air, grounding abilities, and lack of sun's fatiguing rays are some of the reasons the chronically ill love caves. Well what do you know!

But the very next day I foolishly approached 4,000 ft elevation in the Smoky Mountains and had my worst relapse yet. After my disastrous experience in Yosemite last year (not to mention Lake Tahoe and Cuzco, Peru, before that), wouldn't you think I'd learn to avoid high altitude? Apparently not. Add "Smoky Mountains" to that list as the fourth location that made me feel the worst I've ever felt — a culmination of the worst of my symptoms times five. The complete loss of control over my bladder was the worst my Lyme-induced interstitial cystitis has ever become. What a mess.

Ultimately, I was able to see Nashville, several small towns south of Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Gatlinburg and the Smokies, and several small towns between Knoxville and Nashville. Since I dipped into some of my "extra" time to recover in motels, I had to cancel the last leg of my trip — Memphis. So I never got to see Memphis. But that's OK, because I accomplished my mission of figuring out where I want to live.

While I couldn't see myself realistically living long-term or thriving in most of Tennessee, I did find West Knoxville to be everything I was looking for: green, a rural feeling in a suburban area, lots of amenities and conveniences, clean, modern, low population density, cheap cost of housing, lots of creeks and bodies of water, mild winters and summers (averaging 40 degrees and 80 degrees, respectively) and lastly, less cars on the road (and a local's observation that they don't have bumper-to-bumper traffic, even at 5 pm). It was an added bonus that people in Knox County aren't overwhelmingly conservative or Southern, nor overwhelmingly liberal, but rather, a blend of conservatives, liberals, Southerners, midwesterners, and East Coasters (since Knoxville is located in northeastern Tennessee).

Sometimes though, even when you make a list of your desires, you're just looking for a feeling that something is right. Take dating, for instance. Sometimes someone is perfect for you on paper, but in person there is no spark. Well, I'm happy to report, West Knoxville gave me the feeling I was looking for!

So Knox County it is. Destination: 2013.

But, let's be realistic. If I had as hard time as I did just traveling through a state for a week, am I being naive to think I can accomplish a move across the country? I'm not a college student with a few bags of stuff. I own a home, love my eclectic furniture and have no plans to sell it, have three cats who go wherever I go......... I have to buy a house (because I want to take advantage of the housing market, not to mention I don't believe in wasting money on renting), so I have to find a house, visit it in person, make an offer, sell my house, move all my stuff..........

Yes, I can do it. But will it be the hardest thing I've ever done? Yes. No question. None at all.

I'm not the type of person to let anything stop me from achieving a goal if my heart is set on it. I will move mountains to achieve goals. And yet, at some point, I have to be realistic, both reminding myself and those around me that my body is in a fragile condition and cannot be treated as just another capable thirty-year-old-body. This requires people to actually believe me over their own selfish assumptions, even after I tell them, for instance, that I cannot lift a 25-pound box or walk up two flights of stairs.

Everything always seems to go back to this. Always. Dealing with the general public, figuring out how to explain my disorder to people in a way they might understand, and doing so in a concise manner.

Sure, if someone has fifteen minutes, I can explain to them the cause and effect of my borreliosis and coinfections and parasites putting my body in a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune state, and how it's quite a feat to destroy my infections while simultaneously healing my malfunctioning organs, and how unpredictable each day can be with one bedridden day followed by a high energy day, and that my blood is thick and clotted, my mitochondria are all damaged, my hormones are way off (all as a result of Lyme), and that there is no sure-fire cure for late-stage Lyme disease, and that I'm highly reactive to molds and toxins in food and perfumes, and what a Herxheimer reaction is, and why we have to get sicker to get better...... but I can't explain all that to people who look at me funny for requesting an elevator when I'm too sick to take the stairs (or, if I still took public transportation — which thankfully I don't — requesting seats reserved for the disabled when it's standing room only), because my disease is invisible. I don't have tubes going into my nose or a port in my chest. I look, for all intensive purposes, healthy.

But somehow I am getting through life and continuing to be productive, even if things take a lot longer than they should. So I will find a way to get to Knoxville. I will uproot my life from this overrated, debt-ridden, broken Silicon Valley, California, and plant solid roots in underrated, affordable, promising Knox County. And that's where I'll start a family and live out my days.

While typing the last paragraph, one of my cats started playing with something which banged against the door, and even though I am well aware that my security system is set and nobody can possibly be inside my home, my heart ignored my brain and jumped. And even now as I write how I know well that I am perfectly safe, as my cat continues to make this noise against my door, I continue to feel adrenaline shooting through my body.

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