For most of my adult life I was living with PTSD but it wasn’t until about ten years ago before I was finally diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have had many traumatic events in my life that are contributing factors to this diagnosis; medical trauma, sexual assault and abuse, drug and alcohol lifestyle, just to name a few.
The drugs and alcohol, I know now, were coping mechanisms for my hyper-vigilance and fears. Sadly, this is a common reaction for coping with the stress of reliving trauma with untreated PTSD.
I mention “untreated” because of the importance in finding help and treatment for this disorder. Living with PTSD is like prison or hell on earth. It robs you of happiness and finding your true self. However, with proper therapy, and/or medication there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
What Is PTSD Like?
Think of the scariest thing that has ever happened to you. Now imagine reliving that event, or the emotions you felt, on a daily basis. When events or things remind you of that terror you go straight to the source. Over and over. You can sometimes taste, smell, and feel everything about the trauma of the event. You can see it in your mind as if you were there and you have a physical reaction.
Flashbacks come on when you are triggered by almost anything. Nightmares keep you up at night. You can’t listen to your favorite music anymore, or watch TV because it reminds you too much. Loud noises and crowds at restaurants keep you isolated. You have a flat and empty feeling inside, and can’t seem to feel positive about anything or your future seems bleak and empty. You cry at the drop of a hat.
Everything and everyone makes you irritable and you startle easy. You feel like you are living in a movie and you have no control of your life. You are scared and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. Your memory is terrible and you can’t rely on your own thoughts. Life seems hopeless. This is what PTSD feels like.
I’d like to preface this by saying that not all of these symptoms are experienced at the same time by everyone. What I’ve explained is my own experience.
Seeking Help for PTSD
Women with PTSD, or CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) have historically been dismissed as emotional, hysterical, depressive or even considered strange.
PTSD has been a warrior’s syndrome, and predominantly considered something that affects men and women coming home from war. The war that most of us go through in our daily lives wasn’t thought about or examined to be sufficient enough to cause PTSD until recent years.
Before my diagnosis I internalized my feelings and always thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t seek help because I was afraid to speak about the traumatic events. I didn’t want to hash up old feelings, even though they were still present with the flashbacks and nightmares that haunted me.
It’s common for women to hide their emotional trauma. They can go years without asking for help. The stigma that is still present around mental illness keeps both men and women from getting the help they need – but help is available.
Available Treatment for PTSD
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy used in helping many people with the guilt and shame that can be associated with their trauma. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is also a new standard treatment that is used to treat PTSD.
I started therapy for my sexual abuse and sexual assault trauma in 2003 and continued it for many years. It helped me realize that it wasn’t my fault. The events that happened to me weren’t of my making.
I am not to blame and I will not be a victim to my circumstances anymore.
I gained personal power and began helping other women overcome their fears and feelings of guilt.
How I Cope With PTSD Today
My PTSD is surrounded more by medical trauma because I have woken up during surgery. To date, I’ve had countless procedures and 21 surgeries. I still have episodes of fear and panic when I am faced with another medical event.
I can recognize the triggers for “PTSD episode,” as I call it, but I am no longer powerless against them. Breathing exercises help when the panic arrives. I can count on my Higher Power to help alleviate the panic when I pray. I talk it out with my support system.
Build Your Support System
I can’t stress enough how important your support system is. It is someone you can talk to who understands and listens without being judgmental. I also take depression medication daily to help with my moods and depression. I paint and write.
Writing is very helpful. Helping others is very cathartic too. These are just a few things I have found to help keep the monster at bay. It doesn’t control my life anymore. I think positive thoughts because thoughts have power.
My support system encompasses all of these things because PTSD is something I live with but it doesn’t control my life anymore.
You are NOT alone. If you’re in trouble, reach out and don’t be afraid to talk about it.