I Keep Being Advised to Slow Down – Distraction or Avoidance – Am I Overdoing It?
'Up and down' is an understatement
Since my discharge from hospital three months ago, I have been recovering whilst staying with family. In that time I feel like I’ve meandered from a couple of weeks of high anxiety to the same of low mood, never really feeling better but also never quite as bad as the weeks leading up to my admission.
My behaviour and level of activity has been rather variable too. There have been weeks where I’ve done a lot on my own, then a lot with people and then nothing, that’s usually on my own. What I intend to share with you here is that recently I’ve been exceptionally busy which is good, at least that was my first thought. However, I have been asked to consider that I’m overdoing it and to try slowing down by different people. People who possibly hold my needs in greater regard than myself.
Throughout my school years, I nearly always had an activity planned for most evenings after school: piano lessons, first aiding, karate, volunteering in a nursing home etc. etc. the list goes on. It was commented on by a tutor in my interview for my posh sixth form that it was almost ‘too much’ but I think that as also the same reason they took a rough kid from out of town who had been in trouble with the police. I continued to do something every lunch time there too: debating, green business, Duke of Edinburgh Award etc. again, the list goes on.
I've learned a lot about myself since this diagnosis
Since being diagnosed with PTSD, I began reading a lot about the presentation and treatment, I realised that I showed a lot of signs and symptoms throughout my childhood including avoidance. Being excessively busy has been a theme throughout my entire life, twinned with drugs in my teenage years and then working way too many hours in my nursing career. This is all avoidance I discovered, all running away from thoughts I didn’t know I had until the PTSD really showed all of its colours.
As well as avoidance, there’s also the issue of self-harm. Self-harm has never really appealed to me, so I have always believed. However when I was in hospital, one of the therapists asked me to take care as they were aware I was going to the gym more but also isolating more and that gym might by a method of self-harming. . I dismissed this immediately, thinking I don’t self-harm but by the end of the session I could see that I was avoiding issues that were worsening my symptoms and physically burnt myself out instead. At that point I started really suffering again, lessons to be learnt.
On the other hand, I’m being routinely reminded to stay busy and stay distracted from my symptoms?
At the beginning of my treatment, I was encouraged to take up sports, go to the gym regularly, go walking, enjoy music, all to settle my symptoms but how much is too much?
After being told that attending the gym is great for PTSD so I planned to go every day as I had little else to do at that point which was fine until I was pushing myself hard in the gym every day. For me, there’s very a fine line between being healthily distracted and sub-consciously self-harming, which is even finer when my symptoms of PTSD are triggered and I can’t wait to feel better.
Then there’s the need to consider balance, something I greatly lack. I thought that my relatively new interest in writing would provide me with a non-physical avenue but at times I relied on that heavily too. After identifying a tipping point in the gym, I recently decided to try some sports that allow me to exercise in a different way plus all the benefits of social interaction. In typical style, I signed myself up for netball, kickboxing and football, all for the first time, all in the first week.
Avoidance, hyper-vigilance and overdoing it - my hardest habits to break
The week went surprisingly well but I have been told by multiple people that it’s too much and I need to pick one or two maximum in order to maintain balance. Maybe its avoidance or maybe it’s an effort to make the steps I need to make to return to work, either way I never do anything in halves and it did leave a mark on me physically as I stained both hamstrings and hip adductors. It was at this point I became aware of the lack of balance in the decision to try three new sports in one week but I still have no intention of cancelling any of them.
Throughout that week I had been writing a lot too, again writing helps me to calm down so when I’m struggling I write more. This too had received comment, suggesting I should slow down there too.
The problem is even with my experiences and people around me telling me I’m overdoing it, it continues to be my worst habit. It’s like I can’t help it. When anxiety is in charge, doing things that reduce it become very attractive, usually at my own expense.