Letters to Linda – PTSD Basics

Here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

Welcome to hell.

That feels like the real welcome. PTSD is hell. It’s worse if you don’t have information about it, support for your experience or can see a way out. It’s standard-issue to feel trapped and unable to escape. Not only can doors seem closed, they can seem to not exist at all. And that’s why it’s hell. It is really hard to have hope when you first come to understand that you have PTSD.

It doesn’t always show itself at first. It took me two years to get diagnosed, and until then I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew I either needed to get help or I was going to move to Canada. That’s not a joke, I was checking into travel when someone opened a door for me. And that is the beautiful thing about this experience, and something worth holding onto: people will open the doors that you couldn’t even see.

I hope these letters give you comfort and encouragement. I hope that my experience helps you reclaim yourself because you have more information, and you have someone who understands. So here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

  • You are not crazy. It feels like you are, yes, but what you have is a diagnosable condition from trauma. Your brain has an injury that needs to heal, and that does not make you crazy, it makes you absolutely deserving of love, support and healing.
  • Not all PTSD looks the same. If comparison is the root of envy, it is also the root of you being really unsure if you even have PTSD. Humans are unique and our neurologic response to trauma is unique. Just because you don’t have the symptoms on a list on the internet or because you don’t think your experience with trauma was “as bad as someone else” doesn’t mean that you are any more or less, it means that there is good reason for addressing your experience and needs, not someone else’s.
  • You can heal. In a lot of ways this can feel like a life sentence, and it is. There is so much damage from negative thoughts and behaviors that come from PTSD, especially if your trauma experience is not addressed for years after it happens. But there is always hope! It takes work, and it’s hard, but you can heal. It starts with believing that you can, and I certainly believe you can, because I’ve been there.
  • Give yourself some space to heal. If you had a broken arm, you would have gone to the doctor, had your arm repaired, be in a cast, possibly had surgery and have a timeline of several weeks to heal. Then you would get your cast off and still have time to rebuild strength in your arm and get it back to full use. If you didn’t get medical help very soon after your arm broke, your arm might heal in a way that made it hard to use, or very painful. Our brains aren’t very different! The big difference is that we often can’t see when our brains break, so they are much harder to get help for, and, unlike a broken arm, brain trauma can have a lot of shame with it, so it can be really hard to talk about and get help for. And that’s ok, because you didn’t know. Don’t beat yourself up, rather acknowledge that you didn’t know, and now that you do you can start the healing process.
  • There is not a timeline. This is not school or work. There are no deadlines or requirements, this is all at your pace. You get to decide what you’re comfortable with and what kind of progress you want to make. For me, it has take two years to get stable, to understand my trauma and my experience to the point that when I have severe anxiety or flashbacks or triggers I can deal with them in a healthy, healing way rather than a negative, harmful way. I still have a lot of work to do, and as I heal, I am finding more trauma I wasn’t aware of. Not fun! But I have accepted this is a process that does not have a timeline or expectations, it’s a journey at my own pace. The more effort I put into healing, the faster I heal, and the more I put off taking care of myself, the less progress I make. That also means I get to take breaks when I get tired of this whole thing or if I get busy with other things in life. When I have the motivation and space, I can really dig into re-wiring my brain.
  • Start with acknowledgement. PTSD can have so many lies. Anxiety is a lie, depression is a lie – there are so many things your brain will tell you that aren’t true. However, that experience is very real, and very valid. All it takes to start on the path to healing is to recognize what’s going on. If you are experiencing anxiety, acknowledge it. If you have a trigger experience, acknowledge it. If you are drained and exhausted, acknowledge it. If you can’t deal with groups today, acknowledge it. If you are in fight mode, acknowledge it. If you feel like you are stuck, acknowledge it. For me this was the hardest and easiest step to take. “I acknowledge that I have a lot of anxiety right now.” may seem silly or pointless, but recognizing what you feel and pausing to acknowledge it is actually a very powerful step forward. When you recognize negative experiences, you can address them. Start there.

Second Date/Planned First Date

There will be more of these.

Second date with Client’s Brother ended up being 12 hours. Sometimes you just don’t wanna leave…

Experience (which is not what any sane person wants to claim, but my 20s were a rough time in my life) has taught me that if I don’t bend (at times until I break) for another person, they’ll leave. I have been so accommodating for so long that I forgot to say what I want and need and not care if that didn’t work for him. That changed last night.

Client’s Brother met me after church to grab some supplies, eat lunch and head out Talkative Friend’s house to work on our charity craft project. He met the kids, was very helpful and actually worked, whereas they mostly socialized. I have some large wall art pieces to finish, and he painted framed and nailed boards like a pro. I introduced him but didn’t mention how I knew him, because, frankly, it’s more fun for them to wonder. We finished for the day in just enough time to make it to watch the sun set over the lake, and it is not terrible to be held and have your neck kissed while you watch the sky aflame with color. My favorite restaurants are closed on Sundays, so we got margaritas, then pizza and beer, splitting a massive slice while we snuggled and watched football.

Then we kissed in my car in the Home Depot parking lot till 1:30 in the morning. PG, y’all.

I am all for taking time to get to know someone. I think relationships happen at so many different speeds. I also think that with what I live with, and the lingering damage of assault, it’s better for a guy to know up front what he’s getting into. I may come off as bubble princess in public, but my private life is far different, and I don’t want to have to pretend with him. So I told him what being in my life entails, what I have to work through still and that I am still learning to ask for what I need. He was so accepting and accommodating. He asked what he needed to do and what that would look like for him. I just asked for patience, and he told me I was worth it.

We traded stories of our demons in between kisses. So many kisses. He’s just as hesitant that I won’t accept his past, even though he’s now a different person. He has similar family obligations, responsibilities and concerns, he has made bad relationship choices and he wants better. And he’s smart. He doesn’t understand what I deal with but he’s already shown he’s willing to take care of me. He’s affectionate, which I need because I am too. Two grown-ass adults PG kissing in a car for 4 hours? Because I was vulnerable and he valued that? It’s a way better experience. Here’s to trying new things.

Triggered By a Microwave, and Other ???

I know I’ve been struggling the past two weeks with connecting to the idea that I have value…

I was at my parent’s house this morning and decided to make tea at the same time my youngest brother was making nachos (breakfast foods aren’t his thing, generally). I had my mug in the microwave for about 45 seconds when he stopped it, opened the door, took my mug out, put his chips and cheese in and declared that his would only take 30 seconds, therefore this made sense.

Sure it made sense. My brain, however, sometimes doesn’t accept “sense”, and I stood behind him, still and quiet, trying to control the sudden flood of emotion.

Y’all. I almost cried.

Then I threatened to beat the shit outta him.

Mom was watching me carefully the whole time. No, I wasn’t actually going to attack my still-recovering brother over a mug of hot water, but the incident brought up so much emotion for me. Emotion that had very little to do with him, and my trigger experiences often don’t have anything to do with the situation at hand and everything to do with the past or unresolved stuff.

I felt like I wasn’t important, that I didn’t matter. That I had no value in that moment. That my needs could be scraped aside and ignored.

All that from a microwave.

Mom tried to smooth it over with humor and I went along with it, but I still had to deal with the emotions. I almost cried a second time, then found some quiet so that I could sort this out. I know I’ve been struggling the past two weeks with connecting to the idea that I have value (for so many years I was treated by a lot of people in ways that said I DID NOT), so this was a punch in the gut when I have finally started to stand upright.

I don’t think my brother doesn’t value me, and again, I understand that to him this was a logical, time-based act. And he was in the kitchen first, so he thought first come first to the microwave. I don’t dispute that. My trigger was based on the pile of experiences that I have not yet acknowledged to have been damaging and that have created a twisted view of myself.

Well, time to acknowledge, time to change the narrative, time to be grateful for this opportunity and time to finish drinking my tea and go about my day.