All Stressed Up…

I love Paula Deen. It might stem from the years we lived in Georgia and fell in love with Savannah, or the fact that Tom and I love to cook low country comfort food. Paula is a true success story. She arrived in Savannah with two children and a few dollars in her pocket, and made herself into one of the most famous women in America by sheer grit and determination. She worked her way up from being “The Bag Lady,” serving sandwiches on the street to a restaurateur, celebrity chef, and movie actress. Her wit and spunk are endearing; her slightly twisted sense of humor legendary.

Shortly after arriving in Savannah, Paula was held at gunpoint in a bank robbery. Simply minding her own business, she was thrust into a stressful and potentially lethal circumstance that led her, for years afterwards, to suffer severe anxiety whenever she was in public. She has talked, sparingly, about her struggle to overcome this anxiety – undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – so she and her children could open and run their restaurant, The Lady and Sons. I’d love to have 30 minutes to sit down and talk to her about how she did it so I can learn how.

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Northern Wisconsin – we being me, Tom, Tim, and our daughter. We spent three days lying in the sun, lounging on a boat, swimming, and relaxing. Well, they relaxed. I wasn’t so relaxed. I spent most waking moments worrying if Tim would be able to hold on to stability.

Tim’s been doing pretty well. He’s been mostly stable on his meds and in his routine at the RTC for about three months. That’s the longest stretch of stability since I can remember. And he was so excited to spend time up in Wisconsin where he could swim and have fun. I felt pretty relaxed about it when we picked him up Thursday night. But an hour or so into the drive I heard the familiar chatter of Tim talking to his delusions, quietly, under his breath. I felt my shoulders rise up to my ears.

And my fear continued. Every time Tim stared into space for longer than 30 seconds, my stomach lurched, expecting hours of catatonia, which never came. When he looked through me when I asked him to do something, I started to shake, even though he snapped right out of it. As I tried to show him how to use the microwave and he pushed my hand out of the way so he could push the buttons himself, I fought back tears. If you ask anyone else that was there – all people who’ve spend a lot of time around Tim – they’d say he was great – stable. But I spent time just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I over analyse and hyper-anticipate every sound, move, and gesture, waiting for him to rage, to flee, to fall into psychosis, all triggered by his hushed conversation with the voices he has to deal with daily. What used to be Tim’s trigger is now appears to be my trigger.

Most therapies that deal with PTSD-type anxiety take the patient through the events that cause the anxiety, having the patient relive or re-experience the events that cause the anxiety so that the patient can learn how to feel control over situations that trigger the anxiety. Intellectually I understand this, but emotionally, just the thought of reliving the years of chaos makes me nauseous. But as I sit back and reflect on this past weekend, I realize something important. Tim’s time in residential treatment isn’t just for Tim to learn how to function well in the home setting. It’s also for us – me in particular – to learn how to let the past go and give him the room to grow.

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