How PTSD has crippled my entire world

In university, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was one of the many psychological disorders that intrigued me. I couldn’t read enough research about the ruthless impact trauma has on our emotions and our behaviour. It fascinated me how our brains and neurochemistry could completely change due to trauma.

However… no amount of reading and research could help me when I needed it the most – when I was forever changed by PTSD.

If you’re reading this, you may not even know what PTSD is and that is absolutely okay. In some ways, I wish that I didn’t know what it was either. I wish that I was still caught up reading and reading about it, not living with it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects some us after exposure to trauma. Despite contrary belief, PTSD does not only impact soldiers, but average human beings as well. Any one who has experienced colossal trauma (natural disaster, abuse, neglect, life-threatening illness or car accident) is at risk of developing PTSD. And, unfortunately, I was one of those “average human beings” who was diagnosed with PTSD.

Side note: *My list of trauma is not a definitive. *

I was officially diagnosed in mid-January 2017 after months and months of severe, incapacitating symptoms. I am far… far… f a r from recovered, but I felt obliged to share my experience with PTSD as it is often overlooked. Few people know what PTSD is and the excruciating impact it can have on it’s victims.

Like all disorders, PTSD manifests differently person to person. My experience may be different from yours and that is okay. All of our experiences are valid.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has crippled me with:

Emotional numbness

This began shortly after I was removed from the abusive relationship that I found myself in. I returned home… well maybe, my body did… my mind was somewhere else. I couldn’t feel anything. My body shut down. I couldn’t process what the hell just happened. I couldn’t even remember what had happened… my brain wouldn’t let me. I felt absolutely nothing. I couldn’t remember words. I had no thoughts. I simply couldn’t function. I spent days on end staring blankly at the wall, unable to do much at all. I felt completely gone. So far gone without return. This emotional numbness carried on for a couple of days. I felt as though he had taken my soul from me. I felt like nothing.

As time went on, I was able to feel again. Like a light switch, I went from numb to frantic. For days, I felt nothing and now I was feeling absolutely everything. I continue to have days where the pain takes over and I shut down. Gone, yet again. Each time, wondering how much longer things will be this way.

Avoidance and Isolation

At around the same time that I became emotionally numb, I began to isolate myself. If you know me personally, you know that I am an extreme extrovert. I love parties, social gatherings and meeting new people. However, something in me changed. I began to fear people – even those I have known for a very long time. I questioned everyone’s motives and intentions. I began to label others as bad – inherently evil. He became everything that I saw. I saw negative qualities in others that may not have existed at all. My memory of him and his malevolence flooded my life. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to see anyone. I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t let myself.

After much persuasion from my family and my therapist, I pushed myself to go out – but not without significant anxiety. I flinched walking past men on the streets. I could literally feel my skin crawl. I held my breath as I walked past strangers afraid of what they may do. I was conditioned to expect violence.

Leaving the house was exhausting. I was sore physically and mentally. However, with exposure, things have gotten much easier; though I still isolation myself more than your average person. I rarely attend parties or social gatherings anymore. The way that I see it is if I don’t interact with humans, no one can hurt me. And no, I’m not being rude, I am protecting myself. I’m working on rebuilding my self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance. Please give me time.

Hypervigilance

I honestly didn’t know what hypervigilance meant until I was diagnosed with PTSD. For me, hypervigilance is constantly being on edge. When I’m out and about alone, I’m continuously checking over my shoulders. It’s like living life through a constant stream of anxiety. It’s pure torture and I despise it.

Negative beliefs about the world

All men are evil.

All men are abusive.

All men are incapable of empathy and love.

All men are to be feared.

People are inherently bad.

Our world is corrupt.

Trust me, I never used to feel this way – but it’s what trauma can do to a person. It can change your whole perspective of the world – in the blink of an eye.

Negative feelings towards self

Often times, my mind decides to replay all of the awful things he said to me. After hearing these words relentlessly, you start to believe them.

You deserved this.

You let this happen.

Maybe if you didn’t…

Maybe if you would have…

You’re stupid.

You’re disgusting.

You’re worthless.

Nightmares

I am subjected to graphic night terrors that throw me into full fledged panic. They are often painful scenes that I have been desperately trying to forget. Some are real memories and occurrences while others are just a fabrication made by my mind – both equally agonizing.  I usually wake up crying in a drenching sweat. I have to check my surroundings around 20 times before I can finally allow myself to relax. I have to tell myself that I am safe and that I am okay. I think the most treacherous thing about my nightmares is that every single night I fight the urge to sleep as I am so terrified of what memory will come back to haunt me. Thankfully, as of now, I’m down to about two nightmares a week. This is major progress as they used to be a nightly occurrence.

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are utterly crippling as they take you by surprise and bring you right back to the traumatic moment in seconds. You don’t know when they will creep up on you; you can’t always know all of your triggers. My flashbacks come in hot and heavy distorting my reality and suffocating me.

I can still remember the nights he abused me perfectly. I can remember the clothes I was wearing the nights he hit me. I can remember the exact locations in our apartment. I remember the exact words and phrases I cried as I begged him to stop. I can remember the sound of my skull striking the floor. I can remember the pure horror. Sometimes these sounds and images flood my mind and I can’t escape them… feeling as though I am right back there. Helpless.

Disgust in Intimacy

The thought of another human touching my skin makes me queasy. No, thank you.

Hopelessness

Sometimes it feels as though things will never get better. That things will forever be this way and I will never be free. It’s as if this excruciating pain will cloak me for the rest of my life. I hope that one day it will finally leave me alone, but sometimes it feels like that day will never come. And, I have to accept that.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending to this post. Most of the time, positive and encouraging words flow out of me like a waterfall. But, nothing positive has come out of having PTSD.

Maybe still being here to be able to write this article is enough.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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Bruised, but healing. [Photo taken August 2016]

Reasons to Recover

When I began dialectical behaviour therapy in February, my individual therapist asked me a question that has stuck with me since.

Why choose recovery?

This may seem like a simple question with a simple answer… “because I want to live”. But, after contemplation, I realized it wasn’t actually an easy question to answer. It was something that I needed to ponder.

Why do you want to recover? Why attend therapy three hours a week? Why do you want to spend the next six months learning and practicing new skills? Why spend the time restructuring your behaviours and emotional responses?

Why?

I think we all have different answers to this questions. We all have different reasons to choose recovery. After much consideration, I discovered my justification for recovery.

My hope is that by sharing my answer someone else may identify with me and find their own reasons to recover.

To me, recovery means being at peace with myself. It means accepting help, not losing hope and striving for a brighter day. It means practicing self care and riding myself of the toxicity in my life. It means finding love rooted deep within myself and spreading it outwards (while retaining a good amount for myself). Recovery means living life again.

So, why have I decided to recover despite the resurfacing of traumatic memories, excruciatingly tiring sessions and complete rewiring of myself?

Because….

  • I truly believe that I deserve to recover. I deserve to be at peace with myself. I deserve help, hope and a brighter day. I deserve to practice self care and remove toxicity from my life without immense guilt. I deserve to live my life again.
  • My family and friends need me. I’ve seen the agony in their eyes after telling them that I do not want to be a part of this world anymore. I’ve felt the pain that they feel. The panic as they rush to the hospital to find out if I’m okay. The horror of the unknown. The truth is, they can’t imagine this world without me. They deserve peace (just as I do). They need me to recover (just as I do).
  • My 10-pound shihpoo, Cinnamon, would wonder where I have gone. She doesn’t deserve that. She’s deserves all the cuddles, cheese and tummy rubs in the world.
  • Warm Julys. The warmth on your skin. The bright sunshine glistening on the water. The feeling that everything will be okay.
  • Crisp Octobers. The smell of apple pie. Pumpkin-carving. My birthday. Halloween. Indulging in pumpkin pie.
  • Breath-taking sunsets. The one last moment of striking colour before the darkness of the night. The kind where pictures don’t do it justice. You have to soak all of it into your memory.
  • The first snowfall of the year. The excitement. The beginning of the festive season.
  • Smiling at strangers. Hoping to make their day a little brighter. You never know the impact you can have on someone. We all need a smile sometimes.
  • The feeling of sand in between your toes. 
  • The sound of crashing waves.
  • The crunch of autumn leaves.
  • The smell after a much needed rainfall.
  • Tight hugs. Being embraced in the arms of someone you love.
  • Feeling loved. 
  • Fresh bedsheets. Enough said.
  • Your favourite scent. A candle. Incense. Perfume. Finding comfort in a familiar smell.
  • Eating your favourite meal. Something with potatoes that’s for sure.
  • ‘I thought of you’ moments. The thoughtfulness sends a shiver up my spine.
  • Singing at the top of your lungs. Whether it be country, rap, pop or rock n roll, there is so much joy in screaming the lyrics to your favourite song.
  • Dancing around your home. The only time I can bust a move without judgments.
  • Laughing until your stomach hurts. The best workout.
  • I have so much left to learn. About yourself. About others. About the world.
  • Flowers. I don’t know what we ever did to deserve flowers. Lively colours help brighten those dark days.
  • Crawling into bed after a long day. 
  • Concerts. Seeing my favourite band or singer live.
  • Naps. Rejuvenating.
  • So many places that I have yet to see. 196 countries and endless beauty in this world.
  • So many people that I have yet to meet. People who share my interests and values. Removing my go-to mask. People that I can be my complete and utter self around.
  • Being understood. Hearing ‘I get you. I have experienced something similar and I’m okay. You’ll be okay, too.’
  • Writing. Thoughts. Feelings. Memories. Let it out.
  • Reading books. The feeling of escaping to another world for a little while.
  • The calm after the storm. Literally and figuratively.
  • Forehead kisses.
  • Bonfires. The crackle of wood burning. The smell of cedar. The orange flame lighting up the dark night.
  • Art. Interpreting a piece of art work. Finding meaning in poetry. Identifying with the lyrics of a song.
  • Getting married and having little Emily’s of my own. Never giving up on the idea that true love exists.
  • Cuddling like a burrito on a winter day.
  • Eating burritos.
  • The excitement of sports. Watching the Leafs win the Stanley Cup and TFC win the MLS Cup. Or, the fact that there are so many soccer games that I have yet to play.
  • Yoga. Mastering a pose that was once viewed as impossible. Feeling all of the muscles in your body work together.
  • Inspiring others. Prove to yourself and others that recovery is possible.  
  • There is so much that I have yet to do. I could start all over again. I could learn to play an instrument. I could cut my hair. I could run a marathon. I could do whatever I wanted – if I put my mind to it.
  • Self-love.
  • Falling in love with my life.
  • Things do get better. The darkness cannot last forever.
  •  I am not alone. We have all experienced trauma. We choose to push on. We all choose recovery.
  • I am loved. Despite what my mind tries to tell me, I am loved, I am cared about and I am enough.

So, why do I choose recovery?

There isn’t one, simple reason.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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