All my life I’ve been the type to pull myself up by the bootstraps and go on. No matter how terrible things felt. But there have been occasions when I knew I needed to sit down in the midst of a mess to regroup and regain my balance.
A few years ago, having gone through turmoil related to conflict, dysfunction and addiction ( SUD) within my family (as well as other distressing circumstances that occurred simultaneously, because “when it rains it pours!”), I was given a vague diagnosis of having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by my family physician. Being skeptical, I then had it confirmed by a Psychologist.
I was told by both that what I was experiencing was the complex version (C-PTSD) which occurs as a result of repetitive and extreme stress over a prolonged period of time, versus resulting from a traumatic one time incident.
Of course I was stressed out and frazzled, more than anything else I was managing, my son had just been through a life and death struggle (as detailed in my book “Unhooked“). Though our lives had calmed down, I was so affected that I couldn’t seem to control the terror, anxiety and worry that remained.
You are never quite the same after an experience like that.
I was handed a list of suggestions for how to manage it and went home to sort it out. Being a student of life and adversity, I decided to look deep into the condition and figure out how to come through it triumphantly.
What are causes, signs and symptoms of PTSD?
We’ve all heard of PTSD; a disorder that can develop in people who have experienced traumatic, shocking, scary, or dangerous events. But what does it really mean to have it and what are possible causes?
Trauma can mean many things, it’s defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience; an experience that produces extreme psychological stress, injury or pain.”
According to the article linked above, symptoms include flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts that may begin in the person’s mind or when memories are triggered.
Other signs of PTSD and C-PTSD are being hyper alert, easily aroused or startled, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping and angry outbursts. We also might sink into low self-esteem, isolation and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
If not tended to, these symptoms can build momentum and lead to depression and even thoughts of suicide.
My next question was…
Is PTSD permanent?
Some experiences are so distressing that any reminder of them can cause us to revivify the situation, we become trauma stuck.
I was taught that once we get stuck on an injury, we relive it over and over, whether triggered or not. This is called ruminating; meaning one will dwell on prior events, mentally replaying them and filtering present situations negatively through past experience.
“Extended periods of pain renders us unconscious.” ~Iyanla Vanzant
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m stuck on anger, pain, or bitterness I experience no new development in my life. I don’t grow, it’s difficult to hear and learn, I don’t fully participate in all life has for me and I certainly can’t experience fullness of joy and peace.
I stay stuck right there until I set an intention to move on.
Trauma and PTSD are not impossible, or even that complicated to work through. How much healthier to do the uncomfortable work, versus remaining stuck in old injuries, not moving forward with life.
A huge part of the solution is becoming aware that we’re stuck.
The next step is acknowledging it. Speak to a trustworthy friend, adviser or counselor. There is relief in laying the truth out bare. It’s humbling and scary, but it brings relief.
And then, we need to do something about it!
If the trauma is still occurring it’s even more crucial to have in place a strong support system and tools for coping.
Support groups, recovery meetings, therapy, classes, workshops and therapy workbooks are all great tools and are easily available. Don’t suffer alone, or sit forever in the stress and struggle. It doesn’t just go away. We have to be proactive for our health and emotional/mental well-being.
Even years past our crisis, there are still moments when I feel a surge of fight or flight adrenaline because a memory is triggered. Especially if it relates to my son.
That’s when I turn to one of my resources, work through it and find peace.
I believe nothing matters more than health. Health isn’t just the physical aspect. Wellness includes our mental and emotional condition. We often see people post healthy meals or workouts on social media. While physical health is absolutely vital, if we’re not mentally and emotionally sound as well, we’re not as strong as we think we are.
Our lives can collapse like a house of cards without the full trifecta of wellness. We need emotional and mental health more than we openly acknowledge.
(That doesn’t mean we have to post a selfie while meditating, pouring over a counseling workbook, or from a therapist’s couch. But doing mental and emotional exercises to alleviate distress caused by upsetting events is as important as watching calorie intake and having a strong cardio routine, if not more.)
Post Traumatic Strength Development
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
I was determined to not get stuck in PTSD. Denying and avoiding painful issues is not what I mean. We absolutely have to allow ourselves to melt down, grieve, vent, fume, process through and recover. That time is critical.
At some point after that, we need to heal forward from grievous experiences. At least I do.
As much as is written about PTSD, not a lot is said about growth after trauma.
This is what I call “Post Traumatic Strength Development.” This is the newfound strength and progress that comes after crisis.
We’re never the same after crisis, but when we have faced adversity and worked it through, we can actually become stronger and empowered by what happened.
A new strength I discovered is being at ease about my history. I used to have intense fear of opening up about things that occurred in my life out of concern that someone might ridicule or scorn me. But as a result of all my family has been through and the intense work I’ve done to recover, I no longer care. I now openly share without a second thought. I’m not intimidated by potentially rude, negative responses. Anyone who shames and mocks others has their own issues to recover from, and that’s not for me to be concerned with.
I may not share what’s happening in my private life at the moment, but once something has been dealt with, I will freely share what I’ve come through, how I made peace with it and what I’ve learned. This is in an effort to encourage others who might feel as alone in their struggle as I did.
Five years ago my heart would’ve melted at the thought of that.
Another example is that for years I had what I called “Doormat Syndrome.” At any given time, someone was usually taking advantage of me, trying to bully me, or both.
I tended to magnetically attract these situations and I rarely dealt with them in healthy ways. Reason being that I felt I’d been through so much dysfunction, surely I was worthless. Which meant I also felt worth less than anyone else. I believed I was too damaged to matter.
My patterns of dysfunction tend to be self-disdaining, versus taking advantage of, or abusing anyone else.
I also thought that most negative things that happened around me were my fault, including the mistreatment and misbehavior of others. Ever had anyone treat you disrespectfully and blame you for it? Or maybe you blame yourself?
I lived in that mindset. It’s a dead end, discouraging way to think. I was captive to it for years.
Not only did I believe many distortions of truth, I was completely obsessed and paralyzed by the stressful condition of my family.
Realistically, I couldn’t take much time to combat anything else. I had little mental or emotional energy to battle anything or anyone other than my own crisis, pathology and monstrous heartache.
Internally I was all over the place, yet outwardly I worked very hard to take care of those around me and keep my suffering to myself.
When I started seriously doing the work to recover, all of that dysfunction got cleaned out in the process. My confidence, dignity and self-respect became whole, as my mind found peace.
I am happy to say the doormat days are behind me.
Along with all that mess being over, I’m no longer easily fooled, manipulated or backed into a corner, which were relentless patterns in my life. Nor do I allow stress to build to a raging inferno within, causing me to overreact about something unrelated.
Recovery work heals it all.
After trauma it’s as if I woke up. I now live life open minded, with an unafraid, welcoming heart. I take more risks, give very little emotion to the opinions of those not close to me, I set new goals on a weekly basis and I tell those I care about how much they matter.
All things that used to get lost in the shuffle of anxiety and my dreary mindset.
After going through so much darkness, including the primal fear and despair that comes with the crisis I experienced (and the sorrow of feeling alone and hopeless in it); finding my way to health and wholeness has been for me, like a second chance at life.
I can honestly say something about life is celebrated daily. Even on the not so great days.
When we do the work for ourselves, PTSD is not permanent.
As much as I had all signs and symptoms of (C) PTSD, I now have all of the benefits of Post Traumatic Strength Development.
Trauma and recovery have changed my life forever.
I wouldn’t choose to go through it again, nor would I wish those days on anyone, but I wouldn’t change what’s in my history. As a result I gained a profound lease on life.
PTSD (even when complex) is not permanent.
And if new traumas happen, support and tools are in place to better deal. Wellness. Not only can life Post Trauma be good again, it can become better than before.
“Life is about growing and improving and getting better.” ~Conor McGregor
Still learning (but so much stronger),
Author of Unhooked
For information, comfort and support:
Family support: Allies in Recovery
Parent Support: TAPU
*Though I do seek expert advice and input, I don’t write as an expert or as one who is certain of what would specifically work for any one person or situation. I write from my experience hoping that anyone feeling alone, who doesn’t attend recovery meetings, go to therapy or have helpful information on hand (or know where to begin to find it) might find their way forward to hope, relief and peace, as I have. I write for the layman who feels alone and bewildered, like I did. If this is you, I wish you much encouragement, peace and wellness.
Never give up!