Saturday, October 27, 2012

Progress: The Numbers Are In!

At the moment, I am sitting on a comfy lounge chair beside a fountain in the courtyard of a luxury hotel in lovely Sonoma, CA. The sun is shining, it's cool here in the shade, I've had some delicious coffee and a charcuterie-and-cheese board, and I figure now is the perfect time to take a survey on my mental health.

You thought.... what? I was going to sunbathe?

After last week's post, I thought I'd retake the trauma symptom survey in my copy of Crash Course: a Self-Healing Guide To Auto Accident Trauma & Recovery by Diane Poole Heller, and do a side-by-side comparison between my scores today and my scores when I first took it a year ago.

It has been instructive, friends. And the news is good.

There are 100 items in the survey, each a common symptom of trauma and PTSR. You are asked to rate yourself on a scale from 0-5, with '0' meaning 'no difficulty or no negative impact on my life,' and '5' meaning 'extreme difficulty or a high level of interference in my life.'

The symptoms are things like:

  • Feeling of helplessness/powerlessness
  • Feeling out of control
  • Flashbacks to the incident
  • Lethargy, exhaustion, chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling disconnected or "not here"

I didn't look at last year's scores until after I'd finished.

I first took the survey on 9/20/2011. At that time, I marked 30 items with a score of '5.'

Today, I had one.

Wow. I did not expect to see that big a difference!

A few more items of interest:

  • 57 scores dropped by at least one point. That means that most of the symptoms I was experiencing last year have gotten better (I had a few scores of '0' then and now, so some symptoms don't apply to me).
  • 30 scores stayed the same.
  • 13 scores went up by at least one point.
I won't bore you with a lot of detail here. I'll just tell you about the symptoms that have improved the most, and the ones that have gotten worse, and I'll tell you why I think that is.

The big drops were in my scores for feeling out of control; feeling powerless; feeling alienated and like no one could understand; as well as feeling anxious, shamed, disinterested in life, and physically weak and heavy. I had my biggest drop for "overeating."

The overeating/weak-and-heavy scores are easy to explain: I told you a while back that I started doing Weight Watchers in May. Since then, I've lost about 30 pounds and have become much more aware of how (and when and why) I eat, and have made some changes that are easy to maintain and will likely stay with me for the rest of my life. It's been incredibly positive and much, much less difficult than I thought it would be.

I've got more pounds to shed, but the difference is pretty obvious at this point and it feels great. I'm within spitting distance of the weight on my driver's license (ha!). I've dropped two sizes. I've lost three belt notches, several inches, a few rolls, and a chin.

I should post some before-and-after pictures. Or before-and-during pictures. Maybe next week!

The biggest outcome of all of this, even more than the weight, is the feeling of control it's given me. It's hard to feel like a victim when you've taken charge of yourself in such a tangible, measurable way. And the physical changes may also be affecting some of the other symptoms, like depression and anxiety. I think this is only going to become more dramatic in the coming months.

Even more interesting are the scores that went up.

Almost all of them have to do with emotions: Feeling angry, irritable, sensitive, emotionally flooded. All negative in the moment, but overall, it's a clear indication that feelings are breaking through. 

A year ago, I wasn't feeling much of anything. Today, I might be a lot more likely to bite your head off, but from where I'm sitting, that's progress.

I saw my biggest jumps in two areas: first, feeling 'disconnected,' or 'outside myself.' I think that's a matter of perspective more than an actual increase in the symptom. Over the past year, it's become very clear to me how far removed I am from my emotional center, and for how long it's been happening. I didn't know how much I was missing before, and now I do, and that makes the gap all the more obvious.

So the symptom hasn't grown, but my awareness of its impact has. Progress. Progress!

The other big jump was in a symptom I'm not sure I'm interpreting correctly: "Bonding with others through trauma."

I suspect they mean feeding each others' victimization, somehow. It seems to mean something negative in this context.

I took it to mean something much more positive and validating. Freeing, even: the idea that telling your story to others brings support and encouragement and empathy and connection. 

My score took a big jump in that category. Know why?

I first took the survey on September 20th of last year. Guess what I did on September 21st?

I posted my very first entry to this blog, and officially declared myself Kate: The Girl Who Lived.

I'd be willing to bet that the connection I've made with all of you through writing this blog is what has fueled my progress in all the other areas. My therapy is great, and it's working, but it has become part of the support system for the work I do here, on the screen, for and with and on the shoulders of the people who read it and respond to it and share their thoughts with me about it.

This writing is something I never thought I'd be able to do, and that is something that had far greater implications for me than just not being able to journal about my therapy. I'd spent most of my adulthood as a thwarted writer. A broken dream. I'd stopped hoping I'd be able to turn it around someday. I'd become quite certain, in fact, that I wouldn't.

Now, the landscape looks very different. I still haven't quite gotten my head around the fact that I'm doing this, I'm making this happen, I'm creating a new dream about what I might do. But it's true. Believe it or not.

I retook that survey today on a whim, because I couldn't think of anything else to write about. I didn't expect such a clear, sharp difference between last year and today. I had no idea the change was so comprehensive. It really gives me hope that I can go further, do more, continue the growth that began with the launch of this blog.

I appreciate all of you who have stuck with me this far. Let's see how far we can go from here, shall we?

1 comment:

  1. This is phenomenal.  I'm delighted to see that you're making this kind of progress.  More writing, more feeling, more bonding, more power, more agency, more strength, all while looking mighty sassy in new jeans, I'll wager.  Plus there was that great article on fostering your kids' independence that you wrote for the Patch, as reblogged by the astonishing Lenore Skenazy.  This has been such a year for you, and you've made it all happen.  Keep on, girl.  Keep on.