I like the simplicity of this picture I borrowed from Google images. It’s a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons my PTSD symptoms sometimes still have a firm chokehold on me. The list can be long depending on the time of year and triggers. It’s a paradox to me that all the healing I’ve done over the summer has increased my symptoms this Fall. It’s been a beautiful Autumn here in the Midwest. In fact, we hit 70 degrees the other day! I can appreciate the wonderful weather, but the long season has prolonged my symptoms. If only my PTSD understood the calendar and I could time my flashbacks to only happen on certain calendar dates. That would be awesome! I was feeling terribly guilty last week about my level of functioning, until my wonderful boss said to me, “It’s okay, that you’re feeling this way right now.” All of a sudden, I felt less guilty and more accepting of what was happening to me. I was able to roll with the symptoms over the weekend vs. feeling like I was failing myself, my family, my friends, my boss. I’m sharing my three most frustrating symptoms. Perhaps some will relate to them, and for others, maybe they can provide an understanding if you know or have heard of someone who has PTSD. I bank on the fact that how they look today may not be how they look in the future.
Flashbacks-The fiercest of my symptoms. They can come at any time, although I can pretty much guarantee that certain things will trigger them. I was showing my therapist a picture of something I had found the other day and he said, “Do you think it’s a good idea to be looking at images that are most probably guaranteed to trigger you?” Oh, yeah, I just found them so compelling and validating, that I didn’t realize that I was probably sending myself into memory mode. My flashbacks are also triggered by the time of year and anniversary dates of trauma. I know I need to be patient with them. It wasn’t until a few 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. I was telling him how I would wake up each night and witness and 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 in my house. I learned that since I have been experiencing flashbacks for about 30 years I need to be patient. Ugh! Patience.
Work-Unfortunately the severity of my symptoms has left me with the inability to work full-time, well, 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. I went from having a wonderful job, with stellar benefits to disability. I was in the marketing and recruiting industry. I’m extremely grateful that I have been hired by two wonderful people, one who owns a healing arts center, and one who owns a wellness center to help with their marketing a few hours a week. They are stellar individuals, who understand trauma and PTSD. I can’t be in an office setting. My startle response is off the hook sometimes. While doing some work in a massage business, I would startle and yelp when someone walked through the door for their massage appointment. Talk about feeling unprofessional! The customers who are coming in for a relaxing massage are starting their wellness experience by apologizing for scaring me. Awkward for both of us. Granted I live in the mid-west and we apologize for everything, but it was still awkward. If I push my brain and don’t listen as it starts to shut down, and do just one more thing it can start a chain reaction of symptoms and send me down for the count for a couple of days. Writing has been a wonderful outlet. Writing, a skill I developed because I used it as a healing tool is my light from the dark.
Overwhelmed: The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to do 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.
I had to learn and 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, which detracts from the reasons I have it and can interrupt the healing process. So when that happens, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life. I’m assuming next Autumn will be less triggering, I have to assume that, because why not? Why not continue to believe that these symptoms will lessen their choke-hold…After all, I’m asking nicely, Dear Symptoms, Please Go Away!
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph