PTSD

DSCN3245  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or more commonly PTSD: I wondered if that applied to me after years of overly exaggerated responses to everyday encounters, like my kids, husband, or anyone coming from behind or around a corner. I feel a rush of terror, let out a scream and jump away from the perceived threat as if my life were in danger.

Kids thought it funny and scared me purposely until I turned on them, snapping, “That’s NOT funny, stop it!” I attempted to explain, “I get scared very easily and become extremely frightened when you do that.”

It began to sink in that others don’t react as I do; my responses are out of whack. I read about trauma and its effects. Could this be it, so long after childhood?

Trauma causes post-traumatic stress, and one symptom is an exaggerated startle response. That must be it, but what’s the timeframe? I didn’t read anything about how long it lasts. A lifetime? Mine does. I read about veterans returning from war, the suicides, drinking, and the inability to hold down jobs or their marriages. I have deep empathy for them. But I wouldn’t compare myself to them. War? I can’t imagine what they saw or experienced. It’s no comparison. Or is it? I underestimate what was expected of me, how I was trained to feel, which wasn’t what I really felt. I was trained to act like I loved my attackers, so I lived in terror but had to hide it, even from myself.

Like leaves in the wind, parts of me scattered to places I couldn’t reach. How much energy does it take one’s psyche to repress a violent traumatic event, or more than one of them? I became two selves: one that cannot remember, and one that remembers but remains inaccessible. I broke in two, leaving fragments along the way, hard to pick up and paste back into one, not the same one anyway. I am not the me that I could have been had I stayed whole and safe from attack. Our psyche protects us by splitting our spirit or soul apart from physical and emotional trauma. But then we are left that way, broken, with no clue how to put ourselves together again, like Humpty Dumpty.

Could that explain why I don’t have the energy others seem to naturally possess? Repeated and excessive bursts of the hormone cortisol, meant to give us sudden energy quickly, to move us away from life-threatening danger, would spurt through my veins daily, depleting precious reserves. And draining that substance, which was meant to be used and resupplied much less frequently, took a toll on both my nervous and immune systems, burning them up. Chronic fatigue became normal. Though my body’s systems have healed somewhat, full recovery seems unlikely. The glands under my neck, and most likely elsewhere, pop out after very little stress. If I don’t pay attention and go at my own pace, I could weaken what’s left and cause even more damage. But it’s unfamiliar territory, respecting my own needs, because I tend to compare myself with others, and compared to them, I appear like a slug.

Energy used to protect my inner self from annihilation taxed my emotional and physical being, especially during my years as a nurse. But that didn’t stop me from trying to keep up with everyone, if that’s what it took to be “normal.” Being on edge, watchful, crouched internally and cowering in a defensive position for the next attack, exhausted my already limited energy supplies. Just carrying on a conversation with anyone who felt threatening permanently weakened resources over time—and nearly everyone felt threatening.

I craved social outlets, connections, and closeness, but when around others I buzzed anxiously. That feeling, like the excessive speed I experimented with in college, took precedence. I feared connections, yet needed them. I spent much of my adult life split, pieces flying about me like busy electrons, a carnival game trying to catch them and make them stick in the holes. Meditation began to bring the parts together, the feeling of wholeness brand new and magical, even if only momentary.

Meditating doesn’t take away pain, but rather takes me into it. Creative solutions to everyday dilemmas often occur. There’s new evidence suggesting it can help heal a brain damaged by PTS, (1) but I knew none of the latest research over ten years ago when I began practicing meditation.

(1) See Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius for more information.

 

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19 thoughts on “PTSD

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog and it does seem as though we share some of life’s discomforts. I am always thankful to meet another traveler although I am saddened to think of how many people are on this path. I am still struggling with accepting the PTSD even though I have known about it and have been dealing with it for years. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  2. There’s much I can relate to in this post…
    You mentioned meditation taking you into the pain, as opposed of away from it. That is something I also experienced in therapy -making a conscious decision to go into the pain I so desperately tried to escape for so many years. Ironically, going into it was how I finally got out of it. I hope you find the same relief and healing.

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  3. I loved reading your post. I can relate to the startle response you describe as well as to the depletion of energy reserves from conversations with certain people. I am sorry that you have suffered so much in so many countless ways! Your writing is beautiful and I look forward to reading more of your work.Thank you

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  4. Patricia, I am amazed that there is such a sisterhood out there of us. I am honored that you shared your blog with me. I hope others might check mine out too. Please share my blog with others. And keep in contact because I think there is a lot of education needed for the world that PTSD is not just for soldiers. There are multitudes of us who are the walking “dead” women. No one wants to talk about childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse. I have not shared my story yet in my new blog and but I will tell you that it is the story that I wrote about that chased the “therapist” out of the room. HA!
    Namaste, Jane

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    1. Oh, I know it must not have been funny at the time, but when reading your post about the therapist sighing then running out of the room, I laughed out loud. I tend to be overly serious, your sense of humor is so refreshing!

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  5. I know exactly what you are saying. I myself suffer from PTSD, caused by the abuses that I grew up with. Knowing only that kind of life, I put myself into situation after situation, subjecting myself to more of the same kinds of abuse. My startle reflex startles everyone else. A loud band, and I’m the one who’s hands fly into the air, and some kind of small scream escapes my mouth. Oh, and I have a therapist who got out of her chair and laid down on the floor . . . very difficult not to laugh every time I looked at her!

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  6. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. I feel the drain from so many people and lack of energy from constant vigilance.

    I’m so sorry for what you’ve suffered . thank you for writing so honestly and openly about it. Its so helpful to know I’m not alone with some of these symptoms that are strange to other people.

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  7. I get it. When I am startled, and if it is really loud or totally unexpected…uh which is what startled is,.. I can burst into tears. Then I get mad for something doing that to me. My dogs will bark at a squirrel outside and their loud bark against the glass windows will get me every time. I might write about this in my blog. thanks for the idea. It is very comforting in a sad but good way that there are some who understand. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I really could relate to the chronic fatigue. I struggle with it every day. I get so frustrated by it because I want to be able to do so much more. I have a strong startle response and my nerves are really shot. This does not seem to improve over time with me. I do believe early and long term trauma stay with you.

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    1. Yes, that’s the sad part, coming to terms with the damage they have done. So I relish in my slower life. My job is to work at caring for myself.

      I keep reminding myself, “No, it’s not laziness when I rest.” Mornings are best if I slept. But by mid-day I’m tired. When I tried keeping up with the fast pace around me I stressed my body in a way that’s permanent. So I need to remind myself all the time it’s ok to rest. Europeans take siesta’s, so I’m very European.
      But I’m also lucky. I am not working and my time is my own.
      I’m sorry you share some of these same struggles.

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      1. I wanted to clarify the word ‘lucky.’ Since leaving home at 18 I have paid my own way including college. I came from a family of 8 kids whose father died when the youngest was just five. So my mother’s salary as a secretary did not make us rich but she supported us. I raised my two sons with my husband who started out at just above minimum wage, so the stores I shopped at were garage sales; household items, their clothes, even gifts.

        I’m not saying this because I feel sorry for myself, I still LOVE garage sales. My boys received Christmas gifts that were used, washed, and tidied up until they were old enough to know the difference. The tree always brimmed to the outskirts of the room with very little money.

        I still feel lucky though… : )

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        1. I really need to start thinking about relishing in my slower life and in caring for myself. I fight it, feel guilty for it and feel the loss of my job tremendously. I will take youor words to heart.

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          1. Sometimes what seems like a loss is really a blessing! I’m cheering for you and hope you feel satisfaction with what you have. A large part of making each day the best it can be, or trying to, is quieting those ‘voices’ that are so harsh towards me. It’s a full-time job!

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