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.

Week One Off the Meds

When they all seem to conspire against you…

I’m not going to post about this every week, but I have made it through the first week of coming off my medications. It was hell. And I’m still full of synthetic chemicals. 

The situations and circumstances around me were the real issue, not my response to quitting my first prescription. I’m ok. Maybe a little more grumpy, a little more intense and a little more looking for connection. There’s also a slight internal shift I can’t put my finger on yet. I might have a little more ability to push through? I think I might also be slimming down a tad. Or it was the 6 hours of playing ball on Wednesday…

Between my family, my friends and my job, the week was bonkers. I’m not sure who called who to sabotage my sanity this week, but they did their damndest. I don’t hate people any more than usual though, and I successfully ran a meeting full of strangers, so… Maybe that was a test? I guess I passed? 

I reckon it’ll be January before I’m completely off everything. That’s a bit ambitious, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. And if this goes the way I’m planning for it to, I’ll be much better off by my birthday. 

Caring For Others When You Can’t Care For Yourself

I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself.

I am done taking care of other people.

That was my thought Saturday night as I waited somewhat impatiently for my chickens to leave my house and go home (chickens being my group of younger friends who I generally adore but sometimes get worn out with). In the last two and a half weeks I have done back to back post-surgery for my brother, care for my very ill mother (who is much better now), running my firm (which got super-intense last week when things got challenging with every single client’s project at once), running my parent’s house while my Dad was out of state on business, helping some of the guys win over the girls they like, and dealing with the absolute nonsense spewing from a friend who dumped her boyfriend and is now taking her need for attention out on the rest of the group.

I am seriously thinking about getting them back together just to give the rest of us (me especially) a break.

Which brings me to one of the most challenging realities of PTSD for me: it is so much easier to care for (read meddle with) other people than it is to take care of myself. Not only that, but when I do get caught up in taking care of and meeting the needs of others, it takes me some time to wind down from it. I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself. I’m also resentful that as much as I have been taking care of others, not only do they not acknowledge what I’ve done (family especially), they don’t care for me (again, family especially).

Enter therapy this morning, where I had to put names to my emotions, face these challenges and acknowledge that one of the core issues that I struggle with having PTSD isĀ I experience anxiety when I don’t know.

I was in a very abusive relationship in which I was horribly betrayed a week before my car wreck. I didn’t understand it as abusive at the time because years of abusive employers had done a number on me (whole other story for another day), and I am coming to realize that what causes me the most anxiety is not knowing. I would really rather know the worst than not know. Some of that comes from being manipulated by someone I thought I could trust, some of it comes from genuinely thinking I was about to die. There is a lot of unknown when your car is smashing around and you are in complete sensory overload.

So now I get to begin to work toward sitting peacefully with not knowing, with understanding that anxiety will not bring resolution. It’s a little much to take in today. I’m going to need some time to process. I’m starting with making a plan to reorganize my workspace to be better for me (which I was going to do two weeks ago but didn’t because I was busy with others) and I’m listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks.

This is hard. This part is really hard. Onward.