I have found a lot of comfort in sharing my journey with PTSD. I try hard not to shy away from opportunities to have conversations about the real-time daily living for someone struggling with this mental illness.
There is more and more information beginning to come out on the statistical prevalence of PTSD in our society, we are finding that more and more people suffer, and slowly, collectively – those of us living with mental health issues are changing the narrative through sharing our stories about mental health as a public health concern that needs to be taken seriously.
Today, as I struggle with anxiety so intense I have found myself wandering the house trying to focus my mind, I got to thinking about my illness and how it manifests in me. There is a lot to PTSD, which makes it a tricky illness to treat because other illnesses can overlap, or coexist.
Before I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in March of 2017 I know that I absolutely have suffered from undiagnosed anxiety as well as depression. I think those two have been close friends of mine the majority of my life. I am also certain I lived my childhood with untreated PTSD from the abuse and maltreatment I was subjected to; I check off nearly the entire checklist of childhood symptoms.
- Nightmares/Sleep disturbances
- Frequent memories/sharing about the abuse
- Emotional outbursts
- Frequent headaches
- Lack of focus/poor grades in school
- Panic attacks/Heavy chest
- Fantasies about death
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t receive the help I needed as a child – it wasn’t until I was near forty that I realized within myself that I needed to address some issues. Of course at that time not realizing what I was about to set in motion for myself.
Going into my early adult life; through dissociation, suppression, and avoidance I pushed everything from my childhood down into the furthest crevice of my mind and from that point on, only slipped into occasional episodes of depression or acute anxiety due to outside stressors. Turns out upon reflection, the majority of my anxiety is always tied to feelings of inadequacy.
So how is all of this different from the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress that I am now learning to navigate?
Imagine going about your day with the constant awareness that your mind is looking for an opportunity to latch on to any given present-day situation in order to compound it with all the weight of your past.
In addition to the umbrella depression and anxiety that seems to bog everyone living with PTSD down, I also spend nearly every day of my life diligently overseeing my mind and body as they respond to everyday situations that could easily trigger my past traumas and the deeply rooted beliefs that I have.
This is the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
Flashbacks that actually cause me to lose time and my bearings in space, then leave me physically weak and unfocused. They can happen at any time.
Body Memories that make me physically restless and uncomfortable, tense and shakey. This happens whenever my body is reminded of past trauma.
Negative Cognitions that constantly get in the way of me being the best version of myself. It causes me to hang my self-worth on how others treat me and it creates loud echoes of self-doubt, self-loathing, and shame in my head.
Emotional Triggers and Behavior Patterns, often times subconscious, that cause me to react in ways that seem illogical and irrational (and they may be) because my brain is responding differently to stress and is interpreting and addressing danger incorrectly based on experiences of abuse and neglect. I do not know life before trauma, and so I can find myself stuck in behavioral and emotional patterns.
Outbursts of Anger that come in swiftly and bring with them storms of frustration, impatience, misunderstanding, and distance. Often times it is the most menial of things that will light the nonexistent fuse and set into motion a tirade of breathless pain masked in the most aggressive of rages.
Shame and Embarrassment at my inability to control my behavior and my emotions at times. At my inability to do normal tasks on a regular basis, like laundry, making dinner, and taking a shower. At my constant need to apologize for irrational behavior. At just how sick I really am and how weak and vulnerable I feel, when all I want is to be strong due to what I have already been through.
Avoidance is like the friend your parents keep telling you not to hang out with – but they are so cool and you feel like family when you are with them. You know you aren’t supposed to hang out, but you are always quietly sneaking away to play. There is nothing more comforting (or self-sabotaging) than the numbing bliss of avoidance.
Disconnection from any sense of being. I don’t know how else to explain. It is a sense of being out of place, not really feeling like you are where you should be. An uncomfortableness in your own skin, a restlessness for something different, something new. It’s almost like a painful longing. You see life from the outside looking in, sometimes from the inside looking out – but you are never in the same room.
and all of this because of:
Changes in my brain that I have no control over. There are a number of areas in the brain of survivors of childhood abuse and maltreatment that are decreased in size as compared to that of someone who has not been exposed to long term trauma. These areas of the brain are responsible for emotional regulation, hormone production, sense of self and feelings of individuality, memory function, motor skills, and proper communication between both sides of the brain. These physical changes have psychological effects on response and reaction.
PTSD is a tiring illness to live with. It requires a level of acceptance that you have no control, from someone who wants nothing more than to finally have control of their life.
It is an illness that shows up as a result of an already traumatic experience and demands that the survivor relive all the ugly, the messy, and the chaotic. It demands disciplined coping skills, diligent management, and constant awareness and reflection.
It is exhausting.
If you know someone struggling with PTSD please be patient and understanding with them. If you are struggling with PTSD – please be patient and understanding with yourself. This is some heavy lifting.
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