The past few months has been a whirlwind of powerful and positive changes in my life. My son got engaged to a wonderful woman and we are over the moon excited for the wedding. My daughter, who has struggled so fiercely, is happy, in a good relationship, excelling at the University, and is realizing that she is the intelligent, insightful woman that we all see. I have come to a place where I have processed and accepted my past. I have a huge toolbox of distress tolerance tools and have gotten the answers to the big questions that were hanging out there in my mind, my therapist and I are beginning the process of ending our therapeutic relationship, and finally, I have been hired to do some marketing for three different small business owners. That is nothing but wonderful, exciting, and also painful at times strides, and I make sure and acknowledge how the past few months have propelled my trajectory of healing.
So, why do I still have symptoms of PTSD? Why do I still have flashbacks, why am I still triggered by certain sounds, why can’t I make my brain concentrate for more than two hours at a time, without it shutting down and becoming so overwhelmed that I begin to decompensate? I mistakenly thought that just like when I had cancer and five years later was declared cured and a survivor, that when I finished therapy I would be cured of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s how I approached therapy from the beginning. My therapist, nor anyone else put that thought in my mind, and I never really talked about it, I just thought, Oh, I’m sick, I will do this thing called therapy, incorporate all the tools I’m learning, and then I will be cured.
For me, however, that is not going to be the case. I have some long-lasting effects from the trauma I endured. From the reading I’ve done the past few weeks, and the understanding I have about the extent of the trauma, I’m still going to have PTSD. I’m not intimating that this is a forever illness, I don’t know what the future will hold. But I have accepted that even when therapy stops (or if I need the occasional tune-up) I’m still going to suffer from symptoms. When I was talking to my son about this yesterday, he looked at me and said, “you wouldn’t expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and walk just because they are done with physical therapy, would you?” I replied, “of course not!” I wonder, is it the invisibility of my illness that makes me so uncomfortable, or is it that I have an illness that makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe both.
I like the simplicity of the picture I included in this post. It’s a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons that some PTSD symptoms still have a firm chokehold on me, but I also like the positivity, knowing that this beautiful flower in the photo will only grow through the muddy, murky water. The symptoms that I still struggle with the most are flashbacks, concentration, and getting extremely, sometimes paralyzingly overwhelmed.
Flashbacks-The fiercest of my symptoms. They can come at any time, although I can pretty much guarantee that certain things will bring them on. Could be the time of year, anniversary dates of trauma, or getting triggered. I know I need to be patient with my flashbacks. It wasn’t until about six months ago that I understood that I had been having flashbacks for about 30 years. I was casually telling my therapist about an incident I witnessed every night after going to bed when I lived in a house with a roommate. I was telling him how I would wake up each night and witness an event happening outside my window. I was telling him this because I thought it was so unusual that my boyfriend and roommate slept through this every night. He looked at me quizzically and said, “you were having a flashback.” I lived in a very quiet, safe area and what I was describing couldn’t possibly go unnoticed by others. Especially if it happened more than once. I was stunned. I just never thought I was having flashbacks, I just thought it was extraordinary that I had such heavy sleepers every night in my house. So I learned that since I have been experiencing flashbacks for about 30 years I need to be patient. Ugh! Flashbacks. Ugh! Patience.
Work-Unfortunately the severity of my symptoms has left me with the inability to work full-time, well, really even part-time. I’m cleared to work 2 hours a day if I’m having a good day. I simply can’t concentrate. My brain shuts down. The nice thing is, that I have been able to freelance a bit and use my marketing skills. If I push my brain and don’t listen as it starts to shut down, and do just that one more thing it can start a chain reaction of symptoms and send me down for the count for a couple of days.
Overwhelmed: The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to, and what I want my brain to do but I’m simply unable to do it. I’m too overwhelmed. Making choices at the grocery store, menu choices from a restaurant, even jumping in the car to run errands can feel daunting. Just too many moving pieces. Sometimes as night approaches it feels overwhelming because I know it’s highly probable that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. I practice good sleep hygiene. I’m mindful about what I read or watch on t.v. I set my intentions, find and acknowledge the perfect moments I had during the day, all my bag of tricks, but the nightmares still come.
And sometimes it’s nothing….I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.
When my therapist and I had a talk last Friday, and he told me that, “Yep, I will still have PTSD when we are finished working together.” I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed that I was ending therapy, I was disappointed because as he was patiently trying once again to help me accept that some wounds are extremely slow to heal, but will heal, I wanted to hear you’re cured. The same words my oncologist said to me just a last year ago.
I have to keep reminding myself that I am working hard to heal and it’s not anything I did or am doing to cause these symptoms. I’m not perpetuating them, I am living with them. When I lose sight of this I find myself getting very angry at my PTSD. Well, to be honest, I’m often angry at it, which detracts from the reasons I have it and can interrupt my healing process. When the anger and frustration wells up, and start to boil over, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life. I can acknowledge my progress, watch my children fly from the nest and make adult lives for themselves, and feel good about my ability to contribute to a life I want to have, and still, understand that I have (at least for a while) this invisible illness of PTSD.
Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph