Dear Symptoms, Please Go Away

There is a saying: “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” That saying is 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.

Autumn is beautiful and just started here in the Midwest. Blue skies and Vermillion colored trees often coexist with 70 degrees temperatures. This time of year, from late August until it snows represents trigger, after trigger for me. While I can appreciate the wonderful weather, the long season can be challenging with prolonged symptoms and what can seem like constant symptom management. If only my PTSD understood the calendar, and I could time my flashbacks to happen on certain calendar dates, instead of seasons. That would be awesome!

There are days when the triggers and symptoms management leave me exhausted and feeling like I’m a burden to my family and close friends. I spend most of the time finding ways to work on distress tolerance, and grounding when the autumn winds blow. I was feeling terribly guilty one day about my level of functioning, until my wonderful boss said to me, “It’s okay that you’re feeling this way right now.” Suddenly, I felt less guilty and more accepting of what was happening to me. I could roll with the symptoms instead of feeling like I was failing myself, my family, my friends, and my boss.

I’m sharing my three most frustrating symptoms. Perhaps some of you will relate to them, and for others, maybe they can provide an understanding if you know or have heard of someone with PTSD. I bank on the fact that how the symptoms look today, will not be how they look in the future. As I continue the process of healing and acceptance, I have already noticed that my symptoms are not as powerful as they used to be, but they are definitely still part of my life.

Flashbacks-The most frustrating of my symptoms. They can come at any time, although I have learned that certain things will trigger them if I’m not being mindful. For instance, I was looking at a photo album I had come across on my shelf one day and realized that the images I was looking at were most probably guaranteed to trigger me.  The photos quickly drew me in and I found them compelling and validating, but then realized I was heading down bad-memory lane and put them away. My flashbacks are also triggered by the time of year and anniversary dates of trauma. Certain seasons, full moons, specific dates of traumatic events, the smell in the air, and the temperature, or the cool mist emanating as low fog hovering over the ground can bring on flashbacks.

I know I need to be patient with them. It wasn’t until a couple of years 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 an event happening outside my window. I described how every night I looked out the window and saw men dressed all in black with army gear, running silently through the woods, guns aimed and ready. 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 flashbacks.” He went on to explain that I lived in a very quiet, safe suburb 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 most of my life, I need to be patient as my brain slowly rewires and knows that it’s safe.

I was with a friend a few nights ago, and suddenly fireworks began to go off in the far distance. It’s the time of year that we just don’t expect fireworks to be going off, and I was in a strange place by the woods, so I was already on high-alert.  My friend noticed my anxiety begin to rise. She immediately understood that I was getting triggered. She calmly said that we were hearing fireworks, and took me outside to show me we were safe, there was no danger, and that she was here with me. Just having someone who understood what was happening and intervened in such a positive way, I believe staved off a flashback. This is a huge lesson that when I trust my support and let my friends and family help take care of me (as I would of them) that I can stop a trigger from becoming a flashback in certain situations.

Unable to 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 fabulous benefits to disability.

I’m extremely grateful that I have been hired by a wonderful person (in fact the same person I described in the above paragraph that helped stave off a flashback) to help with her with her business a couple of hours a week.

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. I felt so 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 Midwest and we apologize for everything, 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 that can render me down for the count lasting a couple of days.

Becoming Overwhelmed: The inability to concentrate can be overwhelming 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. There’s just too many moving pieces.

Sometimes the approaching of the night 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, use all the tools in 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 catch myself pressing play on the tape of negative self-talk, 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 must 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!

PTSD

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

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42 thoughts on “Dear Symptoms, Please Go Away

  1. Thank you! I will let you know as soon as it’s out on Kindle. It’s only printed in paperback, no hardcover. I just picked up my business cards today. They look awesome! I will definitely be emailing you for presentation tips. I’ll most likely need your “you can do it” feedback every now and then. I have my first reading/book signing coming up November 14th. Thanks again for your support! 😊💖

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for sharing and the gift of hope. For me too the triggers are less, but still there. Every year I acknowledge that this year is better, but its nice to hear your personal story and how the shouts are now whispers. That’s incredible healing and I really appreciate you sharing that with me. ❤️

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  3. Congratulations!! Im so, so proud of you. Im on Amazon right now reading the description and looking at the cover. As soon as its on Kindle I will order it. I’ll keep my eye out for it. I put the hardcover in my cart.

    I totally understand the fear you are describing. If Im being absolutely honest, I still feel that fear and Untangled has been out for 3 years. I think its because we have gone from hiding in the silence to sharing our truth. Even writing that is scary to me sometimes.
    I get it! Feel free to email me along the way for some extra “you can do it” or any questions along the way once you start presenting.
    HUGE congratulations and a mighty big step! So proud of you ❤️email: atribeuntangled@gmail.com

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  4. I just wanted to offer you hope that the future can be better for you. I used to have a terrible time in the Autumn because it was the anniversary of severe cult abuse. I don’t know how I got through the yearly hayrides and bonfires that I took my son to with his classmates. While it still can trigger awful feelings this season, they are nothing like they used to be. Instead of shouting at me, the memories whisper and feel more like they come from my past instead of having a feeling of immediacy that they are from the present. The Autumn can now also bring feelings of pleasure. Anyway, just wanted to give you some hope and that I understand what you are going through.

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  5. I could really relate to this, especially your opening quote. I also deal with the symptoms you’ve listed to varying degrees on any given day. I sometimes feel “less than” for not being able to work, but most times I can simply accept it as part of my reality. You are an inspiration to me, especially in regard to your positive attitude, courage, and resilience.

    My book has now been published on amazon.com: “I Walk with a Limp: My Personal Journey as a Trauma Survivor.” I’m waiting for my books to be shipped to me (for upcoming readings/signings). Once they’ve been shipped I’ll convert it to Kindle, then update my website with the information. This is a scary time for me – putting myself out there, risking rejection and failure. I try to keep my self-doubt in check. Thanks for your support and encouragement through this process. It means a great deal to me.

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  6. Pingback: PTSD Recovery Includes Recreating Basic Self-Concepts – Emotional Sobriety: Mind, Body, & Soul

  7. Alexis, I wish you all the best — I am much impressed by how you stay positive about working toward happiness — what a great idea to make a list 🙂

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  8. Oh we are ❤ and a dam fine work we are too!

    I like the imprint thing … sounds abit similar to what I call my 'response and re-write'. I've spent so long processing it all I'd forgotten, until recently, to make sure I take notice of what I do and what I do differently, and make sure I celebrate even the smallest of changes 🙂

    Lol … we'll be taking over the world next 😉

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  9. Thank you! Oh I can SO relate to the “nasty chain of events” when my symptoms go into overdrive. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but still when it happens it is extremely frustrating.
    This Fall I have been trying to use the word imprint when I notice a change. Today my therapist reminded me to imprint how I handled a trigger when I was talking about how I handled something this weekend. This is a new way of looking at things for me. Im sure it will take lots and lots of practice, but Im willing to try.
    We are always a work in progress aren’t we?! 💞

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  10. Thankyou, I needed this today and I love how you’ve described it all ❤
    Sometimes I think I can attain some type of 'normality', forgetting that this is my new normal (actually, always has been) and I am doing pretty good. My frustrations are similar, but my pet peeve is being overwhelmed. My sensory do-hickies go into over drive and while I've found things to eleviate the symptoms, they're not always guaranteed and start a nasty chain of events.
    I admire your resilience and attitude! Again, thankyou ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Alexis you always amaze me with how well you handle the terrible issues you are forced to face. Your strength and determination is so inspiring and gives all of us a look at the hard times you are able to get through. Always sending you lots of love and comforting vibes!

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  12. Thank you (I wish you could see my tears of gratitude) Gina. Thank you so much! Im so sorry that your triggers are acting up right now. Lets hold each others heart and provide safe places for each other. Its a soft landing for both of us. ❤️❤️❤️

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  13. That is such an incredible opening saying, and really gave me an insight into how life has been for you for so long. Thank you Alexis; you truly are spreading so much compassion and understanding through your writings. I am very grateful, and I echo your wish that your symptoms ease, slowly but surely… love G in Oz

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  14. I offer you my heart to hold you just for a moment, to know that you feel a need to collapse into a safe place, I have been dealing with triggers, more these past few days than ever, know we are here with you and for you my dear Alexis, your soul is so tender right now, it needs to know it will always have light

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  15. Im glad you were breathing and taking good care while reading this.

    You have been through so much in your life and also an incredible amount of healing.
    Im glad with biofeedback things were/are better, but yeah those triggers can still linger cant they.

    Im glad we both have wonderful support in our lives. We are truly blessed by that. I know how fortunate I am and feel grateful beyond words too.
    💞

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank You for your support! Im glad you were able to spend some time with someone and began to understand the effects of living with PTSD. One of the main reasons I write is to bring an understanding to what its like to live with PTSD. I find I have infinite patience with people who can’t grasp it, but try to understand it and empathize with people who have PTSD, or really any illness. Have a great day! 😊

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  17. I kept having to remind myself to breathe as I read this! You are such an excellent writer that I almost felt like I was having flashbacks right along with you. Wow.

    For me, July and fireworks, hot summer and county fairground times, are big triggers. But the biggest trigger is December. Holidays. Cold weather. The heat cycling on and off. It was better last year after my neurofeedback. But still there.

    I’m so glad that you have understanding, caring people in your life to support you through your triggers. I do, too, and I am grateful beyond words. When I focus on the good in my life, that helps a lot!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I can certainly relate to this! If I could just hibernate from October 1 to January 2, I’d be fine. You seem like you’re learning good coping skills, and I hope you make it through better with each year.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. PTSD remains in many ways misunderstood. The symptoms may, or may not be visible, but often times the cause is something that continues to batter away at those suffering.
    I wrote a novelette featuring a character suffering from PTSD, I invite you to check it out…. Joe

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Sending healing thought to you. I only recently, starting understanding this condition more. I spent some time with a person that has it quite severely. I completely underestimated its power and effect on a person’s quality of life. Keep reminding yourself you are safe, and try to be understanding to those that can’t grasp it. Best wishes.

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