Mindfulness and My PTSD

I titled this post, Mindfulness practice, and My PTSD because I think both a mindfulness practice and an illness can look different for each individual. While the list of symptoms may be similar when it comes to being diagnosed, I have come to find out that the severity of the symptoms, the severity of the trauma, and how each person experiences living with their PTSD can vary greatly. My therapist taught me that, the wonderful group of survivors I have contact with taught me that, and the sometimes unrelenting choke-hold of some of my symptoms have taught me that. I imagine it’s the same for most chronic illness’s but I can only speak to the one that I deal with on a daily basis.

I have had a very steady and intentional mindfulness practice for the last twenty years. I started it years ago when I needed to change the way I was dealing with tremendous stress and hopelessness. I had two very young children at the time and needed to find a way to stay present when all I wanted to do was run away physically, emotionally, and mentally. Twenty years ago, mindfulness was not mainstream, but that didn’t matter to me. I quietly sought out teachers, read books, and practiced what I learned. It became a way of life for me and I found in the silence of my struggle it kept me steady and fairly calm.

Eight years ago, when my brain/mind/body/soul could not hold in my repressed past any longer and I was diagnosed with complex PTSD my mindfulness practice went to hell. I could no longer sit for more than one or two minutes without my memories, distress, fear, and shame, kicking in and sending me into a panic. It seemed the more I told myself, breathe in-breathe out, I would follow that up with a panic attack that lasted much longer than a short meditation practice would have lasted. So I gave up the idea of meditating. I also had a strong yoga practice but felt a surge of anger course through me every time I tried to settle into a resting or restorative pose. I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher at the time. He pulled me aside one day and told me that sometimes in life yoga tells you to take a break. It’s about listening to what your mind and body are telling you. He assured me that one day, I would be able to come back to it and that I hadn’t failed. He was correct, I did come back to a yoga practice.

My task right now is to learn to live with my flashbacks, becoming overwhelmed, triggers, and sense of fear that still are very much part of my day. But, I also want to live mindfully and intentionally. This seems so incongruent and at odds sometimes, a paradox. I wonder if the desire of how I want to live will always be shadowed by how I have to cope day to day with my PTSD. Can the two of them find a middle ground?

I try to honor being awake. The connectedness we have to all things, the impermanence of the moments both perfect and non-perfect, the beauty and wonder and power of being present. Except that my symptoms bring me back to the past. It’s what PTSD does, it’s the nature of the illness. So trying to live in the present and being flashbacked to the past is quite uncomfortable and very frustrating.

Many people have said to me, let it go, it’s in the past, you are safe now, etc.  I get it, I understand what they are saying, I understand the place from where those words of encouragement come from and still that isn’t what this is about.  The nature of PTSD, the nature of how the illness affects me, is that it won’t let me forget the past. In my mindfulness practice, my mind doesn’t just acknowledge it and let it go. Although I can let it go after I have experienced the symptom, that’s after it causes quite a stir in mind.

When I try to ignore my symptoms, I often end up in a state of mind I would rather not participate in any longer. It brings me to the brink of crisis, which is a place I have worked hard and developed many skills and tools to avert. I’m trying to come to terms with working with my symptoms instead of fighting them and also living the mindful and intentional life I choose.

I feel that I’m finding my way, I’m working diligently to have both. I’m learning to acknowledge that this is not an either/or situation. I have relentless symptoms that I deal with on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live in the present. Even if my present is uncomfortable, I’m not in a situation where I am physically in harm’s way any longer. My mind and body forget that sometimes, but if I continue to practice staying present and being mindful of my thoughts when I’m not being triggered I find it’s easier to come out of that out-of-control feeling when I do get triggered.

I will continue the practice of mindfulness and pay attention to the present. I will continue to learn and grow, but I’m also going to acknowledge that sometimes it’s a struggle to stay present when my illness catapults me to the past. Perhaps that’s part of being mindful.

 

image source: Ashley Batz on Upsplash

 

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

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49 thoughts on “Mindfulness and My PTSD

  1. Beautifully honest. As I start my doctoral studies in psychology in September, I hope to focus a lot on the intersection of PTSD and mindfulness. The community needs more people like you who are not afraid to speak their truth about the challenges of living with PTSD. Even if it’s based in the past, it’s real for you now.

    I’ve started a new blog called The Path to Mindfulness. I hope you will find your way there and find the resources there useful as you continue on your healing journey. Keep up the excellent work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally get the ebb and flow of trauma resilience. Fall until the snow flies is a difficult time of year for me. It really helps to stay connected with people who can relate. Doesnt it! ❤️

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  3. I have found that I don’t have as much trauma resilience right now, so “little things” can jar me and pause my recovery or set it back when I start to return to my former coping mechanisms. Really great to hear your perspective and I am also glad to know that others are on a similar journey and can relate when a lot of times the people immediately around me can’t! Have a great day too!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your experience with me, Ashley. Its such a long and non-linear process to heal. Some days if I even think of the word mindfulness I want to run down the road screaming, other times its been a huge lesson for me. Its all a process, that Im glad that we can experience and share together. Helps makes the aloneness of healing a tiny bit easier. Have a great day!

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  5. “Let it go” and “Don’t think about it” are the worst things someone can say to me. It doesn’t work that way! When I learned PTSD didn’t give me a choice it was a relief in a way because it wasn’t my fault as I had been told it was by well-meaning but uninformed people. I did have a lot of success with EMDR and am very grateful for that. I feel that I am in a long process of reprogramming my brain, and since mindfulness is a new concept for me it’s helpful to hear the experience of others.

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  6. Thank You so much for sharing your experiences with me, Anne. I love the perspective that sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder. Have a great evening! ❤️

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  7. I am glad to hear you were able to come back to yoga! I stopped doing it for quite awhile because as a mom, I put it off during my son’s first 3 years. One thing I’ve found is that I realized how much of a difference it makes in how I feel when I’m NOT doing it. That made it worth taking time off! Distance CAN make the heart grow fonder; for many things. I can imagine how meditation/mindfulness practices could open the door for rushes of memories to bombard you. I still struggle calming my mind when practicing it. Balance is definitely key, as well as realizing it’s okay to know what your mind and body can take or can’t. Wonderful reflections! ~Anne

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  8. Thank You for sharing this with me Jacqueline. Yes, we think intuitively that mindfulness is the answer for everything (depending on the definition). I think it good to be mindful, but a sitting meditation is sometimes not the best idea depending on whats going on emotionally. I love that there is so much research going on in this area. Good luck with your training. 💕

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  9. My go-to Mindfulness

    Hi, Alexis, I was really touched by your honest post. I’m training to be a mindfulness teacher and one of the first things we were told was that if people are in the middle of a depressive episode, or struggling to come to terms with emotions, then it may not be the best time for mindfulness. Meanwhile, treat yourself kindly as you would a hurt friend, with self-compassion – you deserve it. Take care. Jacqueline

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  10. We have so much in common with the struggle to heal. But, the fact that we both want to continue the journey and finding a way to be present is huge. Balance is a practice everyday for me. I know you’ll find peace. ❤

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  11. “My task right now is to learn to live with my flashbacks, becoming overwhelmed, triggers, and sense of fear that still are very much part of my day. But, I also want to live mindfully and intentionally. This seems so incongruent and at odds sometimes, a paradox. I wonder if the desire of how I want to live will always be shadowed by how I have to cope day to day with my PTSD. Can the two of them find a middle ground?”

    This is my task as well. My memories are surfacing and they are taking a toll. I want to be present again for my children. I don’t want me being dragged under by the terror to affect them in any negative manner anymore. I need a mindfulness practice. I need to find something to help me pull myself out and be present in my day. Not to take the thoughts away, because I believe they need to come out but to get to a point where i can say “I am ok. This is not now.” and set them aside to sort through later. I want to stop wanting to hide away. I need to find balance in the most serious way! Thank you for sharing this part of your experience. It is so helpful to read through your journey.

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  12. Thanks for your comment. That is great news for your daughter!! Yes, writing has been a huge tool, publishing my book was one of the best things I’ve done, and my continued writing on my blog and other projects helps tremendously. 😊

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  13. Learning about this from my daughter who has PTSD and anxiety. She also has some mindfulness routines, loves Pema Chodron, and is making progress. What helped her immensely was ECT. The flashbacks stopped immediately. As you must know, writing is also a great way to process. Keep doing it.

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  14. I often find myself a champion for self-help, encouraging others, offering a better way of seeing things, and advise, but I am also realistic enough to know the battle with PTSD should not be taken for granted as though one can simply encourage him or herself and everything will be alright. Like any illness or challenge, there are other systemic or underlying causal factors which are deeply rooted and takes times; thus, these factors may require more extensive therapy and care. I’m happy you understand those who encourage means well, but I like that you are honest with yourself and understand your journey. You are aware you are moving further away from the pit you were in, and while the dark places pull at you, you are more than an overcomer and that is what matters the most. I felt reaching out to you and compelled to say, we are your cheerleaders from the sideline. It’s your journey, therefore do what is best for you.

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  15. Thank You, Terry. I think its such an ebb and flow thing depending on where we are at in our lives. It can become one of those “shoulds” sometimes for me and then I get cranky at the whole idea of mindfulness. Us humans are funny creatures arent we! You have a great weekend. Keep being you. You (and Gary) are loved my friend. 🤗

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  16. Alexis, I have a post soon about my mindfulness meditation – or lack of it. I believe it helped me in the past, but because of my health I have gotten out of the habit And this is the time I really need it – thank you for this post. Hope you have a great weekend. 🙂

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  17. It sounds like you are doing your absolute best to cope with your PTSD my friend..I will keep you in my thoughts and I hope that you can cherish those mindful, peaceful moments more and more..Your book has arrived in Scotland and I will look forward to reading it end of the month when I am there. Much love to you xx

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  18. From my experience with mindfulness, it is through practice, that those feelings are allowed to arise. Pema Chodron’s instruction in The Places that Scare You has been instrumental in teaching me to be with uncomfortable feelings.

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  19. Thank You for honesty, Mark. Im so sorry for the physical issues you have to cope with, along with the emotional scars that are left from trauma. You are absolutely right that more research needs to be done in this. Im hoping as more people speak about it, it helps destigmatize the struggle a bit. My email is atribeuntangled@gmail.com. I will go visit your blog today too.

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  20. i get your blog. I WAS VERY ABUSED AND BULLIEDhow can ANY BODY say it is in the past ..no way.PEOPLE do NOT see the EVERY DAY
    Effects of say sexual abuse..I, HAVE M,E. //BLADDER AND BOWEL PROBLEMS BECAUSE I WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED..research is very
    very rare on this subject .really needs lot more.if you would like too reply PLEASE DO .i,do a blog details below.i,am disabled long list health
    problems.would like you too talk about how you cope //deal with it.,.what helps what does not help and why// mark

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Thank You! I have chills from reading your comment. It feels really good (hmmm, is that okay to say out loud?) when someone absolutely gets the feeling of being dragged under. I wish you didn’t have to feel that way, as I know you wish the same for me. And, we will keep fighting to be a new version of okay as we deal with our PTSD. Have a good weekend!

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  22. Very true about trying to live in the present but being pulled back into the past. I have Combat PTSD so I know whole heartedly what you’re talking about. I’m working with a doctor at the VA practicing mindfulness, it’s hard and it takes time to get used to doing it, especially when your past is right smack dab in your face and you feel like the world is trying to drag you under. Keep working on getting better, its a work in progress.

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