Choosing Autumn Walks Over PTSD

I try to live by a strict schedule. Mondays are trash, Tuesdays are laundry. Mornings are errands or playdates, evenings are cardio and blogging. You get the idea. I do it this way mostly because of PTSD — knowing that I have a set task for a given day and time each week helps me to manage the anxiety symptoms created by my other tasks. After all, those each have their own time slots on other days.

I also do it because I have a toddler, and nothing sucks away the feeling like you will ever get anything done ever again like putting a two year old in charge of your day.

Ironically, a strict schedule also helps me to make conscious decisions about breaking away from my schedule, like we did today.

X got up from his chair about a thousand times during breakfast this morning, no matter how many times I told him he needed to sit down and eat. Cognitively, I know he’s a toddler and has no impulse control. I know it’s nothing personal. But I don’t feel that way, not in the moment. Not with PTSD. My needs and desires being disregarded (or appearing to be) is a huge trigger for me, so every time he did it, my breathing got more shallow and my heart rate sped up.

At the height of it, I caught myself giving him a death glare, practically panting with bottled-up frustration. I was losing it. I was ready to yell. And then a voice inside — one that has grown stronger with therapy and a lot of practice — softly said, This is not the mom you want to be.

I exhaled. My tone, although small with weariness, was gentle as I called my little boy over. “Come talk to me for a second, baby. Can I hold your hands? Look at Mama.”

Sure that we were focused on each other, I looked into his eyes — my eyes, big and gray-green — and smiled. “Time to be all done,” I said. He wasn’t remotely bothered by that, so I dumped the rest of his cereal and his disposable bowl in the trash.

Just like every other moment like this, I found myself grieving how little it takes to wind me up, and what a process it is to calm down again. I stepped out onto the balcony, taking several long, bracing breaths of the near-freezing air. X followed me out after a minute or two, but by then I didn’t mind so much.

“It’s cold out here, baby,” I told him, eyeing his short sleeves. “We should get your dinosaur jacket.”

“Di-SOWWW!” An unequivocal yes.

I thought about it as we pulled his jacket on. “Actually bud, do you want to put on your hat, too, and we’ll go for a little walk?”

“Lil’ wak! ‘At!”

So we stepped out together into the chilly morning. We inspected pumpkins and climbed on rocks and picked a few of the last remaining flowers. With every step, holding that little hand, I felt the anxiety and anger and exhaustion drift away, like foggy breaths in the cold.

Yes, generally I live by a strict schedule. But it’s times like this — with grocery shopping undone, my sweet boy just the right amount of tired to go down for a nap with no fuss, and a sweet memory made — that I’m grateful to have given up control for a bit, to work with my PTSD rather than against it, to go chasing autumn leaves.

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