Friday FAQ: "How Do You DO It All?" Managing My Busy Life with PTSD

It's always fun answering questions from people I meet and interact with as a blogger. I like that this platform (and the questions people ask me because of it) gives me so many great opportunities to explore who I am as a person, how I became the woman I am today, and how I feel on a general basis about the woman I am.

It's interesting, taking such an inward look at myself as a mother, as a woman, as a writer, and sometimes it's the questions I get asked that make me realize things about myself in a whole new way. 

For years now, it has been a running joke in my family that if you ask me at lunchtime what I had for breakfast, I probably won't be able to tell you. I very likely won't show up to appointments, even if I've confirmed them. I won't remember to take medications, and I'll forget where I put things - sometimes even if they're important.

I run through lists constantly in my mind: things that need to be done, things I wanted to say the next time I see someone, groceries I needed to pick up, what time one of my daughters has their next appointment. Forgetting things triggers my anxiety, as does forgetting appointments, losing certain items, misplacing things.

My biggest fear in death is Alzheimer's. My grandmother has it, and I know that it can run in families. My mother is becoming symptomatic.

So every time I put my keys down and one of the kids moves them ... every time my back pain makes me realize I've been forgetting my reflux medication ... every time I write a wrong date down ...

I'm sure it's coming. And it freaks me out.

But keeping myself together and on a schedule makes a huge difference for me, and my need to do it is the very reason I often have people look into my life and shake their heads, asking, "How do you DO it all?"

So here's how I do it. Mostly.

PTSD creates a strange mix of symptoms, symptoms which sometimes interact with each other in the most disturbing ways. I could go on and on about all of them and how they interact, but this is actually meant to be a positive post about dealing with anxiety, so I'll skip depression, lack of focus, exhaustion, nightmares, and even olfactory hallucinations, and I'll focus on the point.

Because of PTSD, I am an anxious woman. Because of this anxiety, combined with my own childhood memories, I am a strict and overprotective mother. And I know that a "normal" woman - even a "normal" one with PTSD - would probably have gone running to a doctor by now, begging for medication she could take that might help her get her life back.

But I'm a mother, and my mother has been either addicted or on the verge of addicted to one medication or another since I was in fifth grade. She's been homeless because of it, she's been poor because of it. She's been mean and combative and outright crazy because of it. She's almost died because of it, many times.

If I didn't have children, I might ask for medication for myself. I might take my life back - or at least, I might try to. But I can't become my mother. I'd rather drop dead right this second than risk doing that to my kids.

So I am left with the anxiety and the strange mix of other symptoms that control my life. I am left searching for, and implementing, the coping mechanisms I've found in the best way that I know - and in the meantime, I'm still working actively at being a good mom, being a good person, being a good friend. I have goals, and when I can, I work toward them. Some days it feels like I've got it covered, like I'm doing just as well as I had hoped to.

Other days, I'm lost in what's known among the PTSD community as "episodes of decompensation," and those days are why I strive to maintain all the little things that keep my daily life running as smoothly as possible.

When I'm unmotivated to write and too anxious or too depressed to even care that I'm unmotivated, I force myself to at least check my calendars every day. Yes, calendars, plural. I keep two of them because when I keep everything on just one, the sheer enormity of what's on it is often so overwhelming that I'll stop checking it. So I keep two:
  • one with Google Calendars, for maintaining the steady stream of doctor and therapy appointments for myself and my daughters, birthdays I might need to remember, and events I need or want to attend. This calendar syncs to all my devices, which means I don't spend time trying not to lose those little appointment cards everyone's always giving me, and I can color code things so it's easy to see at a glance what's coming up for who.
  • the other one is for Patreon, other writing commitments, and this blog - which I use to keep and fill in a schedule of blog post ideas and deadlines. For this, I use the Jorte Calendar app because it's pretty and I don't care that it doesn't sync from device to device. (Actually, I think it can, if you pay for it - but I don't need that feature.)
I am a creature of habit - I live by the solidity of routine and the comfort of knowing that I've got things in line, and keeping those routines fairly well-implemented helps tremendously with the memory issues. I don't forget my girls's medications because we ALWAYS do them after breakfast and after dinner. I don't forget to feed Chance because he knows what time he eats (after meds) and he NEVER lets me forget. But it's the things that aren't routine that trip me up, so ...

If I can make myself check my calendars, that's a start; so from there, I use Google Keep to create and maintain a running to-do list of things I need to accomplish in order to be prepared for appointments or to meet deadlines. This list is ALWAYS sorted in order of deadline, for two reasons:
  1. Common sense. If you sort things to be done in deadline order, it's easier to make sure nothing that was due last week is still sitting untouched at the bottom of your to-do list.
  2. Mental health. Keeping things sorted by deadline gives me the knowledge that I'm always at least a little bit ahead of what's due. When I'm doing well and have my issues under some control, then I work myself ahead, writing extra content, prepping extra graphics, participating in networking groups. When I'm not doing so well - when I'm "decompensating" - then knowing I don't have to do that top thing (such as writing this blog post) until Thursday night at the latest means that if I'm a wreck on Wednesday and I can't do anything more than stare at the computer screen like a useless lump, it's okay to let myself give up. It's okay to take a day and knit, or watch vlogs, or play with my kids.
Without those calendars, without that list ... I wouldn't maintain nearly as well.

For those of you who are not as digitally inclined as I tend to be, I recommend bullet journaling. This is the least rigid, most unlimited, most open method of planning that's out there, and there are countless ways of making it work for you personally, starting with these few basic concepts:
  • Pick up a cheap composition notebook, and set up the first page to look like a table of contents. Don't worry about filling it in just yet, just set it up and have it there. On the next two-page spread, set up a basic calendar for the month you're in - this can be a drawn-out block calendar, or just a basic list. Write that month and the page number on your table of contents, then turn to the next blank page - which you'll use for planning the week you're in. Write down appointments and deadlines, meal planning info, things you'd like to track (medications, workouts, etc.), and use that page as your starting point. From there, date the next page and just write in a quick bullet list of things you want to accomplish today. Accomplish those things, and do it again tomorrow. It could be three things, five things, ten things. You can also take notes as you go too, writing notable quotes, conversations, accomplishments. From here, adjust your layouts and methods until you find what works for you - there are TONS of options and ideas on Pinterest.
  • If the inability to rearrange pages bothers you, you can still make this work simply by using a binder or ring-bound planner system to house a calendar for planning and some blank sheets of paper for daily notes and to-dos. This allows more freedom in organization by adding the ability to sort and organize project plans, shopping lists, etc. (Alexis Giostra has made a HUGE difference in my life in terms of organizing and maintaining my ability to attempt productivity.), and can really make a difference in your life if you tend to be scatterbrained and need to feel more organized.

In addition to these things, I am not shy about using reminders and alarms to keep myself in line and on time. 

Even if they don't ALWAYS work.

So tell me, how do you stay organized in facing the challenges in your life?

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  1. I've found a calendar and schedule helps my PTSD too. I use my Iphone calendar and for the most part it works unless like this week I knew I had a hair appointment next week but all I could find on my calendar was my eye dr appointment leading me to believe I screwed up and scheduled them both at the same time. Yep I sure did so then I had to go through the stress of rescheduling one. This is the second time my hair appointment has not been in my calendar like it is supposed to be so I guess i need to start double checking after I put it in there.

    1. Oh my gosh, I do that too. God forbid I miss an appointment for something - it takes me FOREVER to work up the nerve to call and reschedule. And customer service calls? Oy, I can't even.


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