Guest Post: My Story, My Essentials: Decluttering, Organising, and Exercising for PTSD
From yoga to acupuncture, surfing to forest bathing, there are a huge amount of activities and therapies that can help ease PTSD symptoms. In this guest post, Katie shares how discovering decluttering, organising and exercise helped her with her PTSD – so much so, se retrained to become a lifestyle and fitness coach.
“I’m going to take you back to the beginning of my journey with trauma and bereavement, which developed into PTSD. This was not my first encounter with PTSD I’ve since uncovered in therapy, but this was my first experience as an adult, and at that time, I believed my only experience.
When it first happened, I didn’t know what to do. Every cell in my body was on hyperalert. I couldn’t move more than a few footsteps before feeling light-headed, disorientated. I couldn’t speak properly – words came out randomly, without conjunctions, as I attempted to form sentences. Gasping for air as fragments of memories moved in and out of focus; trauma cycles, constant why’s, how? I’d see texts come through on my phone and I couldn’t bear to open them. I didn’t know what to write back. I just sat in my bed, shaken, frightened, confused. I felt like I was living inside a film – continually anticipating and projecting the next cliff-hanger moment. Sound, touch, smell, they all posed threats. I developed ticks; constant tapping, touching my face, my head, and my thoughts, with twitches going through my arms, like electricity sparking the muscles. I was lost in my mind, grief muscles contorting on my brow. Then, on day two or three I remember I looked over to my dressing table.
It was crowded with bottles and lotions, and it looked dusty. I hadn’t cleaned it for a while. Prior to the accident I had been working as normal, long hours at my job in the gallery in the city. I had little time to look at the dressing table before I raced out the door each morning to battle through the daily commute. But now I did have time, and I could see everything in minute detail. I grabbed a cloth and started to wipe each bottle clean and stack them on my bed. Once I freshened the last item the surface was clear, and I polished it. In that moment I had a purpose. I could do something which occupied my mind and my hands. It was a positive thing too. I felt lighter as I cleaned. I felt like I could breathe the more I removed dust and clutter. During the time I was busy I felt the energy that had been sparking through my arms being grounded as I moved.
Once I’d finished with dusting and general decluttering, I started to look at the volume of possessions I’d amassed in my room. Each item triggered a memory, with an accompanying story, and I feared that without the item the memory would be lost. But in my bereaved frustration I couldn’t live with all these items stacked around me, bearing down on me, taking my space away and draining my mental energy in a passive yet significant way. That’s when I turned to decluttering my collection. It was an important step, as I acknowledged everything that I had been holding onto for years, and why, but I also knew that this mental shift, or psychological defrag I was going through, meant that I could no longer contain all these things inside my space, physically or mentally. As I started to sort through my books and clothes, I realised that there were items I was hanging onto that simply meant nothing to me now. Clothes that didn’t feel the same anymore when I put them on, and books that I’d grabbed to make up numbers at the beginning of my collecting, but now they just took up shelf-space, while other books languished on the floor. There was, however, items that held a strong connection for me and letting go of these things would be a longer process. It all seems to mirror my emotional journey through therapy. Process and let go. Process and let go. Overtime I found it easier to return to items that I wasn’t sure about before and let them go. I’m glad to donate things to know that they will have a second life. That can bring comfort when releasing the items back out into the world.
After a week at home, I returned to work. Within five days my employer recommended that I consider seeing a doctor to be signed-off of work to recover from the shock I was experiencing. Panic attacks were leaving me dizzy and confused, and I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. Reluctantly I got the certificate that excused me from my responsibilities, something I’d never been through before, and I was at home. It was at this point I knew it was serious – unlike any other bereavement I’d been through before. But then the circumstances were unlike anything I’d experienced before. I felt like I was treading water, with only my face above the surface. I made a conscious decision I that wanted to keep above water – and there was one activity that I knew would help me to do this. No matter how freaked out I was I couldn’t handle becoming agoraphobic, or developing an eating disorder, so I needed to exercise. I went to the gym.
For me, the gym was a challenging environment with all the heavy clinking of weights and other activities that would go on behind me as I did my workout on the treadmill. It became important that I did a mixture of indoor and outdoor exercise to find the right tempo and relief for me. While at the gym I started to develop some aerobics routines on the treadmill when I wasn’t protesting the sounds and vibrations from the barbells hitting the gym floor! I was getting pretty coordinated, and my muscles were gaining strength and tone. My body started to change, posture and flexibility, and I didn’t even realise, because my only focus was keeping my head above water while chasing some endorphins. I used to workout for a couple of hours every other day, with that day in between to rest my body. After a period of two months, I could see the benefits of regular exercise spreading through all aspects of my life, and I decided that I would retrain as a Fitness Instructor, with the main goal being to endorse exercise, especially outdoors, as a fundamental need for mental and physical health. Further, I wanted to reach the PTSD community and support other people on the journey who could benefit from some of the things that help me.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to open-up our range of emotions again after trauma; to feel something other than sadness and anger. It also helps with the body’s ongoing reaction to trauma in a healthy organic way. Exercise creates space for the release of emotions, for mental clarity, and after 25-30 minutes some powerful chemical highs produced in the body. We can use exercise to relieve the effects of fight or flight mode. It also stimulates appetite. If I do an hour exercise session the first thing I find my body craving is salad, chicken, lentils, and a decent amount of it. Without exercise I turn to sugar, and either undereating or filling the gap with takeaways. If I do a good workout, I feel motivated to buy the ingredients to make a wholesome and filling meal.
I’ve gone on to use both decluttering and organising, and exercise and fitness in my ongoing rehabilitation and grounding of my journey with PTSD. So much so that I brought together my professional qualifications and experience in lifestyle: decluttering, organising, and interior design, and fitness, as a certified Exercise to Music Instructor (yes, I did it!), and formed All Silver Clouds Ltd., a lifestyle and fitness business inspired by and here to support those who are living with PTSD. I also incorporate creative activities into my coaching, from writing, to painting, to photography and making videos. Different forms of self-expression are so healing when you’re dealing with a diagnosis of PTSD. It’s a rollercoaster condition and it requires understanding, talking, and stimulating activities to move through it. I extend my professional experience in both lifestyle and fitness, and my personal lived experience with PTSD and managing the symptoms and triggers to work with others, supporting and guiding them while they discover what works for them.
Please feel very welcome to reach out to me if you’d like to know more about my journey with PTSD, the activities I’ve discussed, working with me as a coach, or if you’d like to leave a comment. I also love collaborative projects so do reach out. For PTSD awareness month in June, I will be running lifestyle workshops and exercise classes, all with the aim to raise awareness about the condition and share our experiences. I do hope you can join me. Details will be on the website closer to the time: www.allsilverclouds.com
Lifestyle & Fitness Coach for PTSD Rehabilitation | All Silver Clouds Ltd.
It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
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PTSD UK Blog
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