Oct 27, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder AKA PTSD, describes very normal reactions to life-threatening, traumatic experiences. Never in a million years, did I think that in my early forties, I would be on long-term disability from my employer, leaving behind a 20 year career I loved and pursued several degrees for, due to mental illness. But here I sit, suffering from PTSD. Some days I wonder how I got here. Most days I know. I remember, and remembering is part of my illness.
One symptom of PTSD is reliving the event, over and over again, not only through flashbacks but ongoing thoughts and frequent nightmares. For me, my official diagnosis is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). It differs from PTSD in the fact that a person with C-PTSD has experienced multiple traumas or multiple life-threatening events over one’s lifetime. For me, it was surviving two relationships filled with domestic violence, being diagnosed with a brain tumour and waiting almost two years for brain surgery while caring for my child with special needs. So when all is said and done, my multiple traumas give way to a multitude of flashbacks and nightmares, not on just one traumatic experience, but many. Sometimes I let it define me. Sometimes it confines me. Most of the time I would love to leave it behind me, but that’s easier said than done.
I never know how or when I will be set off.
Nightmares and flashbacks are not the only symptoms of PTSD. Other symptoms include sleeping problems, paranoia, and feeling emotionally numb. You may experience guilt, anger, anxiety, poor judgement, self-esteem issues, poor concentration, and other physical health problems. I experience most of these regularly. Also with PTSD, you avoid reminders of the event, such as dates, locations, even tactile, or sensory experiences. For me, Valentine’s Day will never be pleasurable as I suffered an extreme assault on that day. The same with Super Bowl Sunday. Seeing a man with bushy, black hair will make me stop dead in my tracks. Hearing of someone suffering from a brain tumour will send me into a pity party so huge that I could be lost for days. I never know how or when I will be set off.
Incidents that provoke PTSD sufferers are referred to as ‘triggers’ and personally, depending on the severity of a trigger, I could totally shut down and be in bed for hours, or I could just walk away from the situation and reaffirm to myself that I am in the present, I am safe and I am okay. Often with mental illness, people wonder ‘if you ever will be over it’ but unfortunately, there is no definitive time frame. With PTSD, it’s not the person who refuses to let go of the past, but the past that refuses to let go of the person. Although there are some therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) available for PTSD sufferers, some have long waitlists, some providers limit their sessions and some have no effect on some individuals. So we are left wondering if we will ever get better. For me, I have done both EMDR and CBT with minimal success. A psychiatrist I saw last year, suggested a holistic approach of exercise, meditation, yoga, and fresh air. I have practiced that with more success but unfortunately there is no magical pill that makes it go away. For me, I have found only time and self-care works.
We have at least one thing in common; we are survivors.
I have found that it is also common that PTSD sufferers not only have to fight their symptoms but stereotypes that exist. There is a myth out there that you must have been a member of the military or a first responder to suffer from PTSD. In fact, it can happen to anyone. PTSD is not just caused by combat but anything that threatens one’s life or safety. So although there are large numbers of military and first responders that have PTSD, others do too, including many average folks such as me. Through the past two years, I’ve had the honour to meet a few folks through PTSD support groups and everyone’s stories are different. One may be due to child abuse. Another due to an assault. Yet another due to severe illness. We all suffer from PTSD due to different circumstances but we have at least one thing in common; we are survivors. Many in this universe may have not survived what we have been through, but we did.
We are living proof that sometimes bad things happen to good people and we still survive. I am living proof that bad things happened to me and I survived. If this resonates with you, I hope you will continue to survive too. After all, PTSD is not me and we are not PTSD.