Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Why We Battle the Diagnosis

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…

 

What Anxiety Really is…and What it’s Not

Whew I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been angered/offended or felt downright crazy after hearing people’s interpretation of what they think anxiety is or what’s really “wrong” with people who claim to have it. Or maybe what’s worse, a sermon addressing anxiety and depression…dear baby Jesus help me if I hear the scriptures “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” or “don’t be anxious for anything” ONE. MORE. TIME. Let me make sure you feel the passion in this disclaimer…I LOVE JESUS, I’m grateful for the truth (word of God), worship music – I simply wouldn’t still be on this earth without my faith in Christ. But I am human, I’m not Jesus Christ and because of that I can say let me be real about this. I pride myself on saying those things that people are really thinking but too afraid to say out loud. “I’m a Christian, I can’t say that.” Umm yeah you can! A relationship with Christ should be honest – I mean He already knows what you’re thinking anyways! Don’t we expect honesty in our relationships with others? So why are we not honest with the One who created us, the One who created relationships? Why are we not honest with ourselves? I promise we will get to anxiety (I’m actually showing you exactly what it looks like in these words…squirrel, squirrel, squirrel!).

I’ve struggled with anxiety since childhood. Did I know that until I was 28 years old? Nope. I remember being on the bus as a child and hating every single moment. It was such a long ride, the country music was irritating, it was hot, my blood was boiling with hatred for it. I got physically sick every year when the county tourney for basketball came around because guess what? I was ANXIOUS. I remember from a very early age feeling like I had to perform very well both academically and in sports. Was this expectation innate or influenced by my peers/environment? I’d say both. Being hard on myself is without a doubt in my DNA. I can’t talk about anxiety without bringing up a pair of black shoes I had to wear to school one day in the 3rd grade. They were too big, and they were at the forefront of my mind the entire day. I kept thinking – I’m sure everyone knows my family isn’t wealthy that’s why I’m wearing these shoes that don’t fit, I look so stupid, I hate myself, I can’t wait to take these off and never wear them ever again. Can you imagine a 3rd grader saying this to their little heart? My 29 year old heart breaks for that little girl. I was never abused as a child, never made fun of (until I was older), all my basic needs met, I felt loved by my parents. So why did I feel this way? ANXIETY!!!!

Fast forward to 29 years old and being in essentially the pits of hell in regards to depression, grief, anxiety, PTSD for the last year. One of my biggest feelings as a result of having anxiety is “I am crazy.” And I feel alone and isolated as a result. My brain never stops. It is constantly going, even in my dreams…or should I say nightmares at times. I look at “normal” people just coasting through life wishing I could be them. Wishing I could just LIVE. Here are examples of anxiety in my life:

SELF: I need to go work out and lose weight/be healthier, but I can’t bring myself to make it to gym. What if people watch me and I’m doing a machine wrong? What if they hear me heavy breathing over their ear buds because I’m so out of shape? What if I have butt or boob sweat (people you know it’s real!)? What if they see everything jiggling (because God knows I feel it)? I know I’m an “all or nothing” mentality – I’ll either become addicted to it or it will fizzle out after a week. What’s the point?

Work: What is my next career path? I’m a failure because I can’t be a nurse anymore. What if I never find happiness in my work? Am I doing the work God has called me to do?

Becoming a wife again and becoming a mom: Will someone ever love me like Paul? Will someone ever be able to accept my love/heartbreak/trauma/bad and sad days related to my first husband? Can they accept my face is on a headstone already? Will I ever be whole enough to love like I did the first time? Will I ever be able to live freely without the fear of losing love again if I find it? This brings me to tears…hits me in all the feels. Will I be able to carry a child considering I have endometriosis and a blood clotting disorder? Or if I stay single can I handle being a foster parent or adopting a child by myself? Oh how my heart longs to be a mom…

Mental self: Will I ever have mental peace? Will I ever be ok? Will I always depend on medication to have some normalcy? Why me? How much more money will I need to invest in getting myself better/healthier/whole? Am I just weak?

Social media: Should I post or no? Maybe I post too much. People don’t wanna hear what I have to say. So and so didn’t like my post maybe they think I’m dumb. Constantly checking IG and FB. Comparison comparison comparison. I’m almost 30 and no where near where everyone else my age is.

I encourage you if you have anxiety to write your anxiety out. What keeps you up at night? What do your thoughts obsess about? What activities or things does your anxiety keep you from doing? I believe it could be a step towards healing. One thing I want to say that a counselor told me was anxiety, or any mental illness for that matter, is not your MIND it is your BRAIN. If people could talk themselves out of it, they would. We wouldn’t have people committing suicide if it was simply CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS. That’s why I personally think cognitive behavioral therapy is absolute BS. Would you tell someone with a broken leg that if they just think about their bones being fused back together it will be healed? Please you have lost your mind. Why would we suggest the same for a chemical imbalance of your brain?? Think your way out of it? Uhhh that’s kinda what got me here in the first place ain’t it?

I could go on and on because mental illness is something I’m highly passionate about. I personally find comfort in not suffering in silence. It helps me feel less isolated and more normal. Of everything I’ve learned, you do what is BEST for you. You are the only person who knows best what that means. Self care isn’t selfish, it is SMART.

P.S. This message was brought to you after therapy and valium 🙂 Keep it real people!