It’s been a literal hell of a year. I won’t go into the specifics of all of the things that have happened because that’s enough to fill up an ENTIRE post of its own, but I want to talk about the hardest thing I’ve been dealing with. I’ve been living with PTSD this year – triggered by my ex stalking me. It hit me on top of the depression I was already fighting, and it made me a shell of myself.
What is PTSD?
Most people think that PTSD is something only veterans get, but it turns out that people develop PTSD from all sorts of trauma – including abuse, near-death experiences, or anything else that causes significant fear. I’m still trying to determine just how long I’ve been dealing with this PTSD, but when my ex stalked me at the end of last year, it triggered me.
My Symptoms of PTSD
Dissociation – The scariest symptom of PTSD is the detachment, the feeling of being separate from your body and your life. This is the freeze response – as opposed to the fight or flight response. And I spent months practically catatonic in this state. My body and my mind were bracing for the trauma they expected to come. I would go to a “happy place” of sorts where I didn’t feel the pain or really anything. I also couldn’t think or communicate. My thoughts would spin on just a couple phrases or go completely blank. I still experience this during moments of stress or heightened anxiety, but I’m not stuck in it like I used to be.
Self-harm – Never in my life had I ever hurt myself – until this year. It was terrible not being able to feel, communicate, or work. These are the things I built my identity on. Twice this year, I cut myself. Several times, I pounded my head with my fists – desperately hoping to knock something into place so I could think clearly. I spent the first month of the year spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about drowning. I was actually hospitalized after a trip to the E.R. during a breakdown. Thankfully, this is something I have overcome. I still have the thoughts, but I recognize them and am able to redirect them.
Depression – Depression is real; I was already suffering from it. But my PTSD made it worse. I struggled to get out of bed and find motivation to do even the things I enjoyed. I don’t feel nearly as depressed as I used to. I’m out of that fog a little bit, but I still struggle to get motivated at the start of the day and have a difficult time switching tasks. I’ve set up routines and established small habits in the morning that help me feel happy and successful to help me get motivated for the day. Cognitive behavioral therapy has helped with this.
Anxiety & Fear – I’ve always had anxiety – about stupid things like making phone calls and writing emails. But the anxiety and fear from PTSD are not normal anxiety; they hit me with panic and feel like the world is caving in on me. They paralyze me. I still struggle with these, but I am continuing to figure out what triggers my anxiety and work through it.
Memory Issues – I’ve always had an excellent memory. I was in theater in high school and never understood how people struggled to memorize their lines. I usually had the entire play memorized by performance time. Now, my memory is terrible. I have forgotten many of my childhood memories. I have forgotten entire conversations. I lose track of what I’m saying in the middle of a sentence. These memory issues come and go, and the severity changes depending on the day – but my memory is nothing like it used to be even on a good day.
Concentration Issues – I used to be able to sit down and knock out a to-do list. Now… I get stuck on writing the list out. I get distracted throughout my day. I get stuck on thoughts and space out. I lose myself in the research phase of work and never get to the production. My concentration is terrible, but building routines and using timers to keep me on track during the day has been very helpful.
Motivation Issues – I’m not going to lie; I still feel overwhelmed and unmotivated most days. I have a difficult time executing the important tasks; they are so daunting and big that I avoid them without even meaning to. I lose entire days, weeks, and even months to a hazy sense of self, and the only thing that has helped is establishing and sticking to a routine that includes self-care and cleaning at the start of the day.
It’s in my head. But it’s not ONLY in my head.
You see, the problem with PTSD is that it is in my head. My brain is literally a mess of heightened emotions, instability, and memory blocks. But I can’t just “snap out of it” or “be happier”. Hell, I can’t even just get better from medicine.
PTSD changes the makeup of the brain, and frankly… my brain was a massive part of my identity and my work. I struggle on a daily basis to live my life – and my sickness has had devastating consequences for me and my husband. The impact it has on him is what breaks my heart the most. He’s so patient and tries to help me through the moments of panic and fear – tries to help me break through the catatonic apathy – works around the clock to keep us alive and stable.
And finally, I feel like I am awakening a bit to myself.
But the devastation that has been left in the wake of my PTSD is more than I can bear – feels like more than I can possibly overcome – and I don’t know how long it will be before I am fully better.
To those of you who are a part of this journey – whether from nearby or afar – I hope you will take a little bit of time to learn about the effects of PTSD. I am better than I was, but I am still nowhere near myself. I am to the point where I can function in situations that aren’t stressful and can lose myself in mundane repetitive work that doesn’t take brain power. But put me in a situation where the old me would have excelled, and I draw a blank and hate myself for not being me.
I’ve always been grateful for my intelligence, but the truth is that it adds an extra layer to struggling with mental illness. Because I already blame myself and think I should be able to work through it. I already see the patterns and the irrationality of my anxiety and fear. But that doesn’t change the way my brain works. That doesn’t change the trauma. That doesn’t change the physical response to stress or triggers.
I suffer from PTSD on a daily basis. I may be to the point where I can enjoy some moments of my life, and I thank God for granting me the strength and healing to reach that point, but being able to enjoy a moment or smile occasionally doesn’t mean I’m healed; it simply means I’m moving forward.
Please don’t belittle me by assuming that there’s nothing wrong with me.
Please don’t belittle my progress by assuming that growth means healing.
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