My 5 Truths and No Lies About PTSD

I knew I needed to go to therapy; in fact, I’ve needed it for years. But, especially after all of the things I have experienced in the last few, I definitely needed to finally go.

For some reason, I found it so hard to make the appointment and go. Maybe it was a mixture of the whole social stigma surrounding ‘needing therapy’; but I know for a fact it was also because I just wasn’t ready to go.

These demons and monsters, buried deep inside my emotional subconscious, are scary and blood-thirsty. I knew once I started drudging them up to my surface that it would be difficult to fight through them, to say the least.

But, a few weeks ago I was finally feeling prepared to go face them.

I won’t go too much into my therapy as of yet – but I will say that I am glad I finally got up the courage to go. I think anyone can benefit from going to see a therapist! It’s nice to have someone unbiased listen to you and give you good feedback to help you work through whatever it is you are struggling with.

After my initial appointment, my therapist warned me that working through such dormant emotional traumas came with the potential risk of triggering PTSD.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You may have heard about it pertaining to anyone who has served in the military or armed forces, has witnessed violence or death, or has been a victim of sexual or physical assault. According to Wikipedia:

In the United States about 3.5% of adults have PTSD in a given year, and 9% of people develop it at some point in their life

Unfortunately for me, I fall into a few of those categories myself, and as I start to unwind the complex strands of the trauma nooses that are bound around me internally, I am also beginning to experience certain side-effects from my own PTSD.

So today as I struggle to make it through work on about 2 hours of sleep (due to a fairly traumatic PTSD triggered episode) I wanted to write about something to help bring more awareness to this topic. It shouldn’t be something NOT talked about, and there needs to be more support for those who are suffering through it. Just like all forms of mental illness, this is one that is best treated with support and understanding. So here are 5 things you need to know about PTSD.

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Photography: Michelle Madsen 

1. Stop the Stigma

Just as I said, there is a stigma surrounding all forms of mental illnesses and disorders. I’m not really sure why the world has always had such a hardened heart towards these things.

Back in the “olden days” of Ancient Greece and Rome and Egypt, things were actually fairly humane when it came to treating these conditions. Mental disorders were thought to be connected directly with the person and the Gods; a true reflection of a fight between good and evil. There were special meditation rooms in their temples, herbal treatments, and ceremonies all specifically to help bring back the “balance.’

As time went on, things became less humane and more barbaric. Up until as recently as the 1950’s, lobotomies were still being performed as ‘treatments’ for mental disorders. People were locked away in asylums, children abandoned, electric shock therapy was done; so many horrific and terrible ways people considered as treatments to help.

Nowadays, treatments have progressively become more effective and especially more humane. However, there still remains this stigma about mental health. People suffering are afraid to talk about it or seek treatment, are made fun of for being “crazy”, and according to society should just be able to “suck it up” and “get over” whatever it is that is  affecting them.

This stigma around mental health needs to stop. Even I struggled with just deciding to go to therapy (which I DESPERATELY have needed!) because in my mind I felt like I could work through all of the trauma on my own. Its not true, and I waited longer than I should have because of social stigmas.

So a word of advice to you, someone who does not struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, being bi-polar, schizophrenia, or anything else under the mental illness spectrum: be as open minded and understanding as you can towards those who are. Don’t tell them to “just get over it” or that it’s “all in their head” and that they can easily feel better if they work out or eat better. NONE OF THAT is helpful, or even true. (Yes, working out and eating healthy can possibly help with some symptoms, but if someone is truly suffering they need actual help and actual support.)

2. Not All PTSD is the Same

While over 8 million Americans suffer from PTSD, not every case fits into a cookie cutter mold.

Because every case and cause of PTSD varies, so do the symptoms, and the treatments that help. As you venture through these turbulent waters of recovery, just like I am right now, listen to your body and mind and see what helps you the most. There are many different medications, meditations, therapies, and techniques out there. Do what works for you!

3. Not all Triggers are the Same

Going along with #2, everyone is triggered differently and from different things.

For instance, I get triggered often from nightmares. Last night I had a terrible nightmare that someone was physically attacking and choking me, and I woke up inside my closet shaking and coughing as if someone was strangling me.

I also suffer from a newly formed social anxiety when I am around people I don’t know, or large groups (which, for the record, I never used to have issues with until after my marriage.) Panic attacks also plague my nights as well, keeping me awake or causing nightmares like the one I described.

While we all have different triggers, once we realize what they are we can begin the work to overcome them or help lessen their severity. If I have anxiety in large groups, I should definitely avoid large groups when I’m feeling triggered or feel anxiety coming on.

Set boundaries for yourself so that you can avoid feeling triggered. If you don’t want to go to a social activity, then don’t go! You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like you need to do something if you know you won’t emotionally be able to handle it. Listen to yourself and what makes you feel safe, secure, and in control.

So for those of you in my life who have given me a hard time about me being ‘anti-social’ lately… this is why. I’m doing my best to get back to being my old self, and I’ll come to things when I can! You have to be patient with me, just like I am with myself.

4. Know How to ‘Ground’ Yourself When You Feel Triggered

I came to know the term of ‘grounding myself’ back when I was married and dealing with emotional and physical stress and abuse on a daily basis. And no, it doesn’t mean I sent myself to my room to think about what I did… it’s a mental technique I learned from my sister to help ease the oncoming triggered anxiety or panic that would crash over me like a tsunami.

She deals with panic attacks and anxiety every day, and she explained that in order to feel more grounded she would go through her 5 Senses to help reign in the spinning thoughts or racing heart, and panic that was beginning to take over. I have started calling it “5 Senses in 54321“, but I’m sure there are other names for it too:

5. Name 5 things that you can see around you (a chair, trees, a succulent…)

4. Name 4 things you can feel/touch around you (the grass, wind blowing on your skin…)

3. Name 3 things you can hear around you (traffic driving, birds singing, music…)

2. Name 2 things you can smell around you (perfume, food, flowers…)

Now when it comes to the last sense (taste) if I am not able to name 1 thing I can taste currently, then I would supplement it by reciting a positive affirmation or mantra to myself. Here is my current mantra of choice:

I am strong, I am resilient, I am a survivor

Doing this technique helps to bring me back to solid ground, to feel balance and in control. Seriously, try it out next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicked.

Another grounding technique was one I learned from my energy healer from a few months ago. She showed me how to ‘clear away’ or ‘break off’ any energy surrounding me that I didn’t want to be a part of. Like if there was negative tension in the air from a fight between 2 co-workers, I would simply hold my hands out in front of me, palm forward, and swipe them in unison in circles towards my center and back up into place. Essentially, the right hands moves in a counter-clockwise circle and the left is clock-wise.

Now, this energy grounding technique can feel a little funny, especially if done in public (because honestly when I do it I feel like I am trying to mimic Dr. Strange from Infinity War with all his fancy hand gestures and ‘wizardry’ according to Tony Stark). But, when I focus in on my inner energy and want to feel fully grounded, sometimes it honestly does help to physically break away the negative energies that are poisoning my own.

5. You Have the Right to Detox Your Life; of People, Places, and Things

Life can be filled with all different kinds of toxicity; whether its a frenemy who likes to spread mean rumors about you or others, a place that might trigger bad memories, or an activity that gives you social anxiety.

Whatever it is, you have the right to cut it out from your life.

For me, right now all I want is to feel in control of my life and to feel emotionally secure. There was someone I used to hang out with that just was not a good influence on my energy and on my emotions; they were bringing me down when I just want people who raise me up right now (… and I know y’all started singing Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up in your head when you read that.. don’t lie!!)

So, I cut them out of my social life. I wasn’t malicious about it, and I still see them and consider them a friend. But, I don’t need to let their toxic energy affect me and bring me down.

Same goes for any place that might trigger bad feelings or memories, and send me spiraling into a PTSD/anxiety episode. I avoid all the places my ex and I used to go together, because for now it still stirs up emotions I can’t handle. It’s not that I necessarily miss him, it just makes me sad and hurts me to remember it all.

I also avoid anything that feels negative or toxic to me right now. Generally I love dark, twisted movies and tv shows but right now I can’t seem to handle them. Like the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale just dropped on Hulu, but I just can’t bring myself to watch them just yet.

And you know what? It’s ok to cut these things out and avoid them. Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what other people think or say you should do or be doing to be happy; all that matters is how you feel and if you really are happy. Because you wouldn’t keep eating something if it was filled with cyanide and slowly poisoning you, right? So same goes for toxic people, places or things; cut them out!

Listen to yourself and what you need to feel in control, secure, and of course happy.

Live Your Life

The good news in all of this, is that PTSD is a totally manageable thing. You just have to put the work and effort into managing it.

On the days that I am more consciously making the effort to feel good energy and be positive, I notice a huge difference. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s definitely doable.

Beyond medication there are plenty of ways I can help myself overcome and fight through the stormy waters of PTSD, beyond what I’ve already listed:

  • I have my person. The one who I can call day or night, 24/7, show up at their house in absolute tears, and the one who I can depend on to always be there for me. My person is my twin sister, Heather. I have talked about her a lot, and for good reason. She is my rock, my yin to my yang, and my forever voice of reason.
    • Designate your person, so that you always have that comfort and support whenever you need it!
  • Find creative ways to release your angst, your pain, and your voice. For me, it’s my writing. I have found writing to be so incredibly therapeutic, that’s why I started this blog last year! I journal privately, and I also write on my blog.
    • You could write, paint, play music, garden, dance… anything that helps you release everything building up inside!
  • Find a therapist you feel comfortable with who can help you work through everything internally. I promise you won’t regret it!
  • Go outside. Break away from being in your office all day, or from isolating yourself away from it all. Feeling distant from the world may help for awhile, but eventually it can end up being harmful to your emotional well being. So, go outside! Get some fresh air, go for a walk or a hike, or even a bike ride! The sun and fresh air will do you some good!
  • Every day, take some time for “you” time. It’s easier said than done, I know. But I feel a huge difference when I carve out even just 20 minutes a day to do something just for me, that I know will make me happy. I come home from work and like to unwind by reading, meditating, or honestly even just taking a 30 minute nap. Whatever it is, take the time for you! It’s not selfish, it’s taking care of yourself.
  • Remember that any road to recovery takes time, and to not be too hard on yourself. There will be plenty of bad days ahead, but there will also be good days too. Just be patient and don’t give up.
    • Just like breaking a bone and never getting it fixed; you have to go back to the Dr’s office and have them re-break it to set it into the right place. That is how you should see yourself as you are on this road to healing. You are re-breaking through all the old injuries, and re-setting them into the correct place.
    • Its gonna hurt like hell before it feels better. But it will eventually feel better.

Love yourself, take the time to heal, and you will eventually be to the place where you want to be.

Just as the Philadelphia 76’ers are saying these days in the NBA playoffs, #trusttheprocess !

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Photography: Michelle Madsen 

 

Together, We Climb

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite sometime, and I have been going back and forth in my mind about it; what I should even say, or if I should even share it.

I must say, I am so humbled when I see that anyone even reads what I write on here. Mostly, I write for myself, for therapeutic release. But, learning that someone out there may get something significant from what I write down, continues to inspire me to share my thoughts and feelings.

So, here I go into another very deep and personal post; and I’m hoping maybe someone out there who is struggling with the same thoughts or feelings can find some sort of peace or strength through my words as I have through others’.

The Pit

Slowly, but consistently, I was pushed further and further down towards the bottom of a dark pit; one where I felt transparent and like I was nothing.

It all started when I was raped my freshman year of college by a friend. I explained all of this in this post  here so I won’t rehash those details; but that’s when my descent into the pit began. I can only speak for myself about how I felt after what happened, but I think anyone who has also gone through that sort of trauma can relate to my struggle with feeling confused, scared, broken apart, and lost.

After months and weeks of agonizing over the guilt and shame I felt, being told it was my fault and I was at blame, my spirit was weakened and I felt like I lost my worth. I felt like a car that had been driven off the lot, and immediately lost a significant amount of value.

In the years since, I have consistently noticed that I was falling into a pattern of trying to feel self-worth or validation through men. Society manipulates us into thinking we as women are nothing without the attention or endorsement of men. This goes back to my recent post about being whole and happy on your own, and not needing to rely on someone else to complete you. But to me, I was trying to fill in those cracks and open wounds that I had sustained with nothing more than water; which eventually evaporates.

Following my destructive cycle of finding myself attracted to abusive men, I was in a major relationship with a controlling narcissist in my early 20’s, and then of course fell into the false arms of my ex-husband. The path that led me there of course was well lit with the best of gas lamps and empty words.

Breaking an Elephant’s Spirit

I watched this horrifying video yesterday, about the abuse elephants endure to be used as tourist attractions for rides in Thailand. They are stolen from their mother’s as small babies, never to see them again. For the majority of the rest of their life they are isolated, abused, beaten, shackled in chains, and starved. All to be ridden by tourists.

The video showed how stressed out, heart broken, and alone they become. There was footage of a young elephant swaying back and forth, almost as if it was dancing. But, really, the baby was showing signs of incredible anxiety and stress from being alone, and especially being mistreated. It also showed an adult elephant reaching it’s trunk back and holding it’s own tail for comfort. That image literally made be burst into tears. These animals are such family oriented and social creatures, and they are literally being beaten and reduced to nothing. The video at one point described it as literally breaking the spirit of these elephants. (So please… do your research before you go to a country where you can ride elephants, or spend time with any wild creatures. 99.99% of the time they are being cruelly mistreated and severely beaten!)

I could relate in a way to those elephants, because my spirit too was completely broken from what I had endured from my own abusive life.

Among many things, I was told I was never good enough constantly, in any aspect: he thought breasts were too small, he often commented on how he hated the way I dressed and did my hair, he criticized my dreams and told me I would never succeed, he tore down my religious beliefs, he talked down to me and called me every horrible word and name under the sun, he called me stupid and spoke to me like I was inferior, and at one point he even told me I deserved and probably even asked to be raped when I was younger.

To say my spirit was broken, was an understatement. There I lay after escaping my marriage at the bottom of the dark, and lonely pit of absolute worthlessness.

Worthless

Among my constant unwanted companions of fear and depression in those first few months after my divorce, I have also consistently received unwanted visits from the darkest of them all, worthlessness; who in fact unpacked their bags as soon as they arrived and seemed to have no plans to leave anytime soon.

Almost every day, they poke me in the back of my mind and remind me, “Hey, remember how worthless you are? K, cool, just checking.”

I was contemplating feeling worthless again last night in fact, when all those familiar painful memories resurfaced like emotional vomit burning in my throat. Then, as I scrolled through social media to try and fall asleep I came across the video that had been posted of Oprah’s acceptance speech at last night’s Golden Globe Awards.

If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and take the time to do so now. You can click here to watch.

Not only is Oprah the first black woman to win the prestigious Cecil B. de Mille award, but she gave one of the most inspirational and powerful speeches, to go along with her incredible achievement.

Last night everyone wore black to support and continue to raise awareness for the #metoo campaign that has been quickly rising with powerful force over the last few months around the world. Oprah reenforced this movement with her own words, all of which struck deeply inside my healing heart.

She spoke of Recy Taylor, a woman who was brutally abducted and raped in 1944, and whose abusers were never prosecuted.

She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

Their time is up. And I just hope — I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on.

And she went on to finish with this powerful quote:

In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.

As I finished the video, and the tears rolled down my face, I was shaken with a strange new sense of strength and an urgency to make a change. Not just in my own life and perspective, but in the lives of others who are also victims, who also may feel worthless and lay at the bottom of their own despairing pits.

Together, We Climb

I know that in reality I am not worthless. But, feeling so victimized and beaten down for so long, it is difficult to shake such an unwanted emotional companion. But I am not worthless.

I am worth everything. I am the strong and resilient woman that my parents raised. I am worth fighting for; pushing against the dark tides that abuse and harassment of every kind carry in to drown us. And I am worthy to feel my worth; I will no longer let anything keep me down again. Because I am worth everything.

I have been progressing forward towards a new hope, and this new day as Oprah said. Or, should I say, I am progressing upward. I will rise from the ashes of the rock bottom of this pit and I will never return to it.

And this climb is one that many of us are making, many of which you probably have no idea. When the #metoo campaign first started across social media, I was completely heartbroken to see just how many people close to me posted about it, and I had no idea they were also victims of some sort of harassment, rape, or abuse.

Whatever it is that has led you to this overwhelming feeling of not being good enough, worthless, or carrying the heavy burden of shame or guilt for something that was not your fault; know that you are not alone anymore and that the climb is easier with another set of hands and feet helping you find your own footholds up and out. You are never, ever, alone.

I am excited and humbled to be able to help with a cause so near and dear to me in the next few months; my sister and I are helping with the upcoming Hope and Healing Gala for Salt Lake’s Rape Recovery Center. I want to help others, others who I have been where they are and have felt what they are feeling. If nothing else comes out of my own pain and suffering besides me being able to empathize and help someone else climb out of their own pit, then I am grateful to have endured it.

Again, in the words of Oprah, the time to live in the dark shroud of a world powered by manipulation, abuse, and harassment is up. And my old frenemy worthlessness? You are no longer welcome around these parts.

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