Mental health

Mental Health Week: I have PTSD

I’m kicking off the start of mental health week by speaking about something that, thanks to stigma, I’ve actually never mentioned before on this blog. I have PTSD.

There are many myths attached to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The biggest one being that PTSD only happens to soldiers or those that have seen war or horrific acts of violence. While soldiers and those who’ve experienced violence make up a decent number of people with PTSD, it’s important to remember that PTSD can happen to anyone who undergoes anything that is a traumatic experience, including children. It can happen as a result of abuse, medical situations, enduring a particularly stressful circumstance, life or death situations, and more. PTSD can also happen years after the stressor that causes it.

There’s also a ton of stigma attached to PTSD. So much so that many of us with PTSD are hesitant to seek help or even talk about it.

That said, I’m not sure I’ve actually touched on my experiences with PTSD on this blog. I know I’ve mentioned it on Tumblr before, and I’ve even written a few fanfics for a few fandoms to help cope with the situation. Thanks After a quick search through all of my posts, I’ve never mentioned having PTSD here. So here it is, I suppose.

I have PTSD.

I came to me from two situations in my life. One from an awful relationship with my ex, the other stemming from a tornado when I was 7.

The idea that I’d experienced trauma never occurred to me. In fact, it was introduced to me early on in my therapy sessions. My counselor on campus and I somehow got into a conversation about anxiety or anxiety symptoms or something. I mentioned how every time there’s a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, Tornado Watch, or Tornado Warning, my stomach aches, my heart races, I’m hypervigilant, and I’m scared out of my mind. It’s been this way since I was young. She nodded as if this made sense and said something along the lines of “Well because you were traumatized.”

We’d talked a session or two before that one about the fact that a tornado hit my house when I was 7. My mom and I weren’t home but my dad and dog were in the house when it happened. I could feel my mom’s concern as we drove home, and I knew something was wrong the moment we left church to head home. I remember the streetlights were on until we turned to our neighborhood and everything turned dark. The sky being black certainly didn’t help either. Our fence was down, the neighborhood was a mess.  I remember being scared when I saw people knocking on our front door as we pulled up. They were trying to see if everyone was okay. Relief filled me when my dad came out with our dog in his arms–they were fine. As I got older, I became terrified of severe weather.

It never occurred to me until I was in the middle of that session that the Tornado situation was enough to cause me trauma. 

Last year, I saw my counselor following a particularly stressful situation that came from running into my ex at my local store. I hadn’t seen him in five years and he’d worked at a store in a neighboring city when we separated. I was with my mom at the register, looked up, and there he was.

My body reacted as if someone had issued a Tornado Warning. The heart palpitations began, my stomach knotted. This time there were new symptoms. My brain told me to run and get out but I was glued to the register, my hands shook, and there was the breathlessness. I felt nauseous. I struggled to breathe, I just couldn’t breathe.

For the first time in months, I had a full-on panic attack.

By the time I managed to calm myself down, I was exhausted. I brought up this situation to my counselor, and we talked over my symptoms and delved into my relationship. I’d get into specifics but it would require much more than a paragraph and this post is long enough as is. I told her about my avoidance of his store. I mentioned my inability to go back to my store now that he was there. I mentioned the triggers and intrusive thoughts that came from seeing someone that looks like him or hearing something or smelling something that ignites memories of him.

The term ‘PTSD’ finally came up in our sessions. The stress of the breakup, his treatment of me at the end, and the events that happened following mixed with the tumultuousness of our relationship was enough to cause trauma. It was all enough to warrant a panic attack from unexpectedly being within a foot of him.

We created a plan for what to do when I feel myself experiencing PTSD symptoms. I’m in a place now that I can go to the store without having a panic attack. I’m still hypervigilant when I’m there, just as I am when weather warnings arise. I can’t avoid many of the internal symptoms, mainly the stomach pains and thoughts, but it’s a process and I’m coping much better thanks to tools I’ve learned in therapy. (Goodness, I feel like I say that in every post!).

I mentioned earlier in this post that many of us with PTSD are hesitant to seek help. Speaking to a counselor about my symptoms and my situations helped me more than I can say. While I know that many with PTSD will go the rest of their lives without speak to someone about what they’re experiencing, I hope that by telling my story and sharing my experience the stigma associated with PTSD will lessen to a point that eventually more people will get the support they deserve.

For more information about PTSD, check out PTSD UKNIMH, and Mind.

 

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