TW: Physical abuse, psychological abuse, violence, verbal abuse
I don’t know why, but whenever I think of PTSD I think of the video game American McGee’s Alice. Anyway. This is a post of mine that is ridiculously demanding to write, but as I continue to live with the condition, I feel more compelled to come out about it. In the past, the most arduous posts I’ve written have helped to the greatest extent, so I believe the battle is worth it.
Before I get to my personal experience, it is dire that I get this fact out of the way first. Far too many people believe that PTSD is only for those who have fought in wars; this is couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While it is true that those who fight in wars often do come back with PTSD, there is an endless amount of other experiences that can give you the disorder as well. Being present during a terrifying event, a horrible accident, losing someone you love (especially suddenly), chronic illness, being abused…in reality, any traumatic event of any kind can lead to PTSD. On the other hand, not all people who experience traumatic events are diagnosed with PTSD. This explanation from the National Institute of Mental Health explains it perfectly:
PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
For people who have had to live through not just one but a steady stream of trauma their entire lives, the one specific experience that started it all becomes terribly hard to find. The beginning of one trauma and the end of another are convoluted, and life as a whole seems to become just one large traumatic experience in itself.
Personally, a combination of constant physical and emotional abuse mixed in with many terrifying medical experiences together make for a dreadful mix that has developed into my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A key to understanding PTSD is understanding triggers. A trigger is exactly what it sounds like; something that triggers your mind into recalling an emotion, memory or event. A trigger can be practically anything. My triggers can be as insignificant as smells (such as bactericide) or as enormous and having to go through the same event again (such as a fight with a person who has abused me or another overnight ER visit). So now we have every part of the equation. Traumatic event + triggers = PTSD. I am terrible at math, but I can compute that!
Daily life with PTSD feels like playing a video game. Every second is filled with obstacles that I have to overcome, and if I don’t overcome, I’m unable to move forward. The triggers can throw my entire day off and completely switch my mood. I’m absolutely positive there is a movie screen in my mind that comes with a remote. Each button on the remote is a trigger, and when one is pressed, the scenes start playing. Sometimes it’s one particular scene playing over and over, while other times it feels like millions of them playing at once (think Matrix and the room with the televisions). Either way it is overwhelming as well as mentally and physically exhausting.
Even an action as small as putting face cream on after a shower is enough to trigger me. It happens every single time I do it, and I used to be unable to finish despite my desire for a smooth face. Whenever I smooth lotion onto my face, I flashback to watching my mother do it to herself. Her motions seemed violent and angry. She would furiously and quickly rub her face while looking into the mirror with that perpetual scowl of hers, and it seemed almost painful. Once that memory comes back to me, dozens of others follow. Every time she’s hit me, screamed at me, or done any of the terrible things that have forced me to remove her completely from my life all come flying back at rocket speed. I can see it all so clearly, just as if I were watching television, and I never seem capable of making it stop. The simple daily ritual I have of putting on lotion causes a horde of the abuses I have endured to be unleashed. Nowadays, I concentrate extremely hard to slowly and gracefully get ready for my day, even if I am in a rush. I am still triggered every time, but it hurts a tiny bit less.
Not only are days frustrating to get through, but nights are no better. PTSD makes it difficult to fall asleep, but if you pass that hinderance, being asleep can be also be problematic. I have always had realistic dreams and I can remember the finest details of most dreams that I’ve had. Sometimes this is a blessing as many of my dreams are beautiful and intriguing. Many other times, it causes me to jolt awake with a gasp (on occasion even scream) as I wake from a nightmare.
For the longest time I actually thought it was normal to have ultra-realistic nightmares, but turns out that when they are about those who have abused me abusing me further or a retelling of a traumatic event I’ve already experienced, it isn’t. I wake up shaken, gasping for air, and I feel legitimately threatened and terrified. It may take me a few minutes to understand that what happened was only a dream and to start to calm down. Once in a while my nightmares will cause me to cry or have full anxiety attacks, which last for what seems like an eternity. It’s a bit discouraging that even while I rest, I cannot escape my PTSD symptoms.
Everything I do on a daily basis has the potential to trigger me. Putting my lotion on. Tasting something particular. Hearing a song. Having someone completely innocently say something to me someone awful has told me before. Smelling the scent of the hair dye that is used all day at my work that is akin to the smells in hospitals. Being touched at the top of my back or underneath my arm. Every little and big thing affects me in the worst ways, and again, it is endlessly exhausting. If I’m completely honest, I get overwhelmed by it more than it’d like to admit, and considering this is only one of my many illnesses, I feel that I just can’t handle it sometimes. I wish my brain had an auto pilot function so the remainder of it could rest.
Some of my triggers I have learned to push through. Others I must avoid entirely. Back home in California, there were certain places that I simply could not go as I would be drowned in triggers and anxiety. It’s unsettling when PTSD prevents me from doing something entirely because many of those things I truly loved doing, but I end up feeling that I have to relinquish them for my own wellbeing. There was a particular place in the hills back home where I could walk along a path and see millions of stars. I miss it dearly, but the memories I have there are enough to cause my brain to short circuit. Though I wanted to visit it once more before moving, I never had the courage.
While it’s natural for most people to have memories recalled by certain events and memories, it usually isn’t as disabling and anxiety provoking as it is for those with this condition. Some of my favorite bands I’ve had to give up listening to due to how they trigger me, while others I can only listen to on my better days. If I’m already feeling unwell, listening to Angels and Airwaves or Blink-182 is out of the question, as both of them trigger me. (At least I’ll always have Green Day which only makes my heart soar, even on the worst days).
Thankfully PTSD, unlike most of my other illnesses, is actually curable. While I don’t have the the proper treatment I need right now, I am working towards getting it. Even if I have to live with this condition another 5 years before I am able to get the help I need, the fact that I can eventually be cured of it gives me hope. As for now, I’m not entirely sure how to cope with all my triggers but I try my absolute best every day to not be crippled by them so that I may carry on.
I hope that PTSD is taken seriously by others and that those who do suffer from it don’t “one up” each other. Anyone suffering from PTSD is struggling, regardless of what theirs stems from or how it affects them on a daily basis. I also hope that people understand that I am not minimizing the PTSD that those who have lived through war struggle with; I only wish to explain that PTSD of those who suffer in other ways is equally important.
I look forward to a future in which hopefully I’ll be triggered less frequently. Living life in fear doesn’t feel like much of a life at all, especially when despite how hard I work to move forward, the hands of my PTSD work even harder to pull me backwards.
Here’s to new memories that with time will overwrite the horrible ones, and new triggers that bring joy instead of pain.
I don’t believe the lies,
Reading between the lines,
I don’t belong here any longer,
I’ll be gone this time.
I don’t believe the lies,
This is the last goodbye,
I don’t belong here any longer,
I’ll be gone this time,
Watching your lips move together,
Nothing’s making sense,
Talk to me.