Ever since I learned about what PTSD was, it was portrayed to me that this was a diagnosis for only a certain group of people. You know who I’m talking about right? Yes, those who are or have been a part of the military. It makes perfect sense of course as they have seen the unthinkable, literally been in a fight for their lives at some point or another. And I’ve wrestled with the idea of being placed in the same category as these heroic men and women. But here’s the thing that I want to say in general about traumas: WE ALL EXPERIENCE THEM. No they may not be in combat, but we all have “traumas” in our lives. Just like you wouldn’t compare someone else’s grief to another, you cannot compare someone else’s trauma to another. I want to share my personal trauma that led to my diagnosis…and why accepting it has helped put me on a path to healing.
What led to my diagnosis of PTSD was the unexpected, tragic death of my husband Paul. On December 20th of 2017, he collapsed in our home, and I performed CPR. I remember the look on Paul’s face as he was fighting for air, the call to 9-1-1, the firefighters and EMT’s flooding my house, the sirens and lights from the ambulance while we were en route to the hospital, the stretcher he was laying lifeless on, the doctor saying “we’ve done everything we can,” laying next to him and feeling no heartbeat in his chest, seeing him blue and feeling his coldness through his hair after being embalmed on Christmas Day before being transferred to Scottsville for visitation, seeing his body in a casket, kissing him for the last time before the casket was officially closed. Talk about horrific memories that are forever etched into my mind.
As I am nearing 13 months out from that day, I still experience symptoms of PTSD. I will go through periods where I require prescription medicine to sleep, the lights/sirens of a fire truck or ambulance give me flashbacks, hospitals and doctor visits give me extreme anxiety, the images of my husband dying or dead replay over and over in my mind (so many times because I still cannot comprehend that he isn’t here). I have trouble focusing on certain tasks – I’ve just now gotten to the point where I can read some of a book or finish TV shows because my attention/concentration was completely disrupted. Some days I get full of rage that seems to come from nowhere, hatred for others actions or hatred for myself. And when I say rage, it’s the seeing red, wanting to demolish everything in my house without caring kind of feeling – loss of complete control. Because PTSD makes me feel just that – like I’m no longer in control. The negative, intrusive thoughts from that day come without warning, taking me back to a period in time I wish I could forget.
Someone asked me when I got back from Honey Lake Clinic what has helped me deal with PTSD. Here are a couple things that have helped:
1. Journaling – probably one of the biggest things. When I start to have negative thoughts, I stop what I’m doing, grab my journal and write it all out. It doesn’t have to be in fancy sentences with perfect punctuation etc. The important thing is to acknowledge that your thoughts are getting intense and to STOP what you are doing and journal right away. Sometimes I’ve turned on some of my worship or sad (I know that sounds weird) music to also help in my writing. It’s truly whatever works for you. Sometimes I journal in silence so I’m not distracted by the music.
2. Prayer – I almost put faith to include reading my bible but that doesn’t really help me in these moments, sounds good tho. 🙂 But I do pray – I ask God please let these images leave me. Help me remember those happy memories of Paul. Let me dream about Paul and let it be good (not the nightmares I sometimes have). I beg for help. I don’t put this in fancy words either. I talk to God like I’m talking to my friends, shoot I even talk to Paul and have him put in a good word for me to the Lord just to give a little extra assurance He gets the message.
3. Belly breathing – this is the kind of breathing that makes you feel fat but makes you feel better…for real! Google 4-7-8 breathing. Warning: this can make you sleepy so make sure you are sitting or laying down! It helps calm your system and of course I forgot the exact science but I promise it works.
4. Grounding – I’ve had out of body experiences with PTSD. It’s that feeling where you know you are there in the room but you feel like you aren’t really there. This has made me feel like I’m going to pass out or something, it’s a complete mind f*ck. To help with this, you focus on things like “ok I feel my toes touching the floor” or you tap your fingers one by one on your leg. It helps bring you back into reality, sorta like the pinching yourself like yes I really am here alive and breathing in this room.
5. Run away – yep you read that correctly. On 12/30/18, I did just that. I woke up with absolute rage, self hatred, heart and mind racing, I had to get the heck out of my house. I’ve done this a few times in the last year and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do so. Getting out of my normal environment, away from all the anxiety inducing things, taking a social media break, and just relaxing helps me tremendously. There’s a different kind of peace that comes in changing scenery for a few days.
Living with PTSD is a battle itself as my trauma has changed every single cell in my body. I’m still learning to be kind to myself in those moments where it hits me with full force. I also feel it’s important to educate those around you about why you are the way you are, what doesn’t help when you are being triggered, and what they can do to help in this journey (although so many times I don’t know the answer to this).
Keep Fighting and Keep It Real…