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The complexity of human experience - PTSD
Imagine living in a state of constant fear and discomfort. You cannot sleep, or perhaps, you sleep too much at times when the nightmares are at bay. Memories plague you, even when you do not wish to think about them. Jumping out at you at improper times, these memories elicit a response of immediate distress. You avoid whatever brings any reminders forth. You cannot interact the same way you used to. You will be on guard, and you may even withdraw from others. Outbursts of anger, sadness, and fear put your loved ones on edge. You have changed, and suddenly, others consider you a burden. Think of these troubles as a snippet of what it is like to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness caused by a traumatic event or series of events. Something being traumatic in nature has different meanings for different people, so everybody who experiences PTSD is different. They all have their own stories and their own personal struggles. PTSD interferes with the mental health of the victim in many different ways, and can be quite difficult to cope with.
I have been diagnosed with PTSD. To understand how this came to be, it is important to take a look at what was the cause of this mental illness in my particular case. The home life I experienced prior to my onset of PTSD was never something I personally identified as traumatic. When I thought of trauma I thought of deaths, accidents, war, and other horrible experiences I would not have been able to deal with. I was coping with my environment, so I only thought of it as one that was uncomfortable. Surely, it was not a traumatic environment. What I was experiencing was normal in my mind. Often, I would detach from these experiences and not acknowledge them to others. It was almost as if I wore a mask so tightly fitted I forgot I put on a mask in the first place. My 'normal' life was an illusion self-created that warped my perception for the long term. I suppose, at the time, that was what I needed to cope.
Once my environment got too toxic for me to handle, I moved out on my own at the age of seventeen. I was then able to reflect a lot on my home life, which I never really mentioned to my therapist prior to moving out. When my therapist told me I was abused I remember nodding to myself absently, but not really believing it. How could I have been? I have seen abuse portrayed in media, I felt as if others have had it so much worse than me. How could what I have been experiencing be classified as abuse? It was frustrating, and I went through a wide range of emotions after I realized what she was saying was true. Anxiety, anger, sadness, betrayal-- these feelings swarmed in my stomach and made me want to vomit for relief.
That was, unfortunately, not the end of things. After you leave your abusive situation, the abuse still often sticks to you like cigarette smoke sticks to walls. It lingers there, hollering at you for attention. It only bothered me every once in a while the first few months after I moved out. As time passed, I started to get nightmares every night. I also developed flashbacks, and was reliving previously repressed memories. Having such memories come to surface is very painful and exhausting. I started becoming afraid of everyone around me, flinching at every touch, and crying alone because the pain of what had previously passed was much too great. I contacted my therapist more frequently because the past was ruining my present, and I had a feeling it would persist to ruin my future. Thus, my predicament led me to being diagnosed with PTSD. I recall trying to deny it inwardly as I did with the idea that I had been abused. It was hard enough to recognize the abuse, but to also recognize that it will continue to stay with you is terrifying. Avoiding the reality would not have done me any good, however. Instead of continuing with my denial, I accepted what I was being told. I accepted it, and I cried.
Over time it feels like it gets worse, but I know this is because I am processing years of abuse that was repressed. It will take time to recover, and there's not a day that it does not affect me drastically. PTSD is a very complex illness because it has to deal with the complexity of human experience. It not only affects you, it affects others around you. You start to feel yourself change, and sometimes these changes are not something others can handle. Those who stay beside you through it are a gift, but it is difficult to not blame yourself for others leaving, even if it is not your fault. Recovery can be a challenging and lengthy process, but it can also be a very rewarding one.
For some positives, you are able to cope with your emotions and symptoms better after starting treatment. For instance, I am able to feel the negative emotions and not be ashamed of them. I feel comfortable enough to take the shame and blame away from myself, and recognize that I did not deserve a single bad thing that happened to me. It helps to surround yourself with loving and caring people whom you know are trustworthy, this way you can create a safe social space for yourself where you can truly not be afraid. Reflecting on these positive outcomes, I am grateful to have been diagnosed and to have gotten help. My past shaped me to be a better, more mature person, I believe. No one deserves to be traumatized, and nothing really makes up for it, but I know it helped make me who I am today. With these thoughts in mind, I can reclaim my present.
I know recovery is possible for every person who is struggling just as I am. We are strong, we are capable, and we will make it through one moment at a time. In the words of my therapist-- "You were a victim, then, you were a survivor. Now, you will become a celebrant." What she means by this is that you should be able to celebrate who you are, and what you have overcome. Celebrate yourself, and become an inspiration to others. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder deals with our past, but it does not have to interfere with our futures. It will not define us.
Chris is an eighteen year old youth volunteer at mindyourmind that is currently coping with mental illness. He hopes to provide insight on experiences as well as creative inspiration to educate, empower, and end stigma in relation to mental illness.
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