June is declared by someone to be PTSD awareness month. For those living with it, we are aware 24/7, if you unfamiliar with this number combination it means, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. No time off for good behavior. I sometimes get fairly smug thinking it is gone from my life for awhile, that thought is a jinx because usually within a few hours I am slammed with a trigger or some other reminder that it is always there. One of my favorite images is the picture of an iceberg that has 90% under the water. Some people with PTSD are so high functioning that no one knows what the person is living with constantly. Sometimes the person with PTSD is clueless as to why they have so many weird thoughts, overreactions, nightmares, and other symptoms because their mind suppressed the trauma that occurred. Sometimes a person recognizes the traumatic experience and someone else trivialized it to the point they no longer realize what a big thing the trauma is. Or how many are told to “just move on” and “forget about it.” I can tell you that forgetting about it without processing the emotions attached to such events can have horrible consequences. I was in bed for almost 3 years with no understanding of what was wrong with me. I passed out daily. I suffered extreme insomnia. I had all the symptoms. I asked doctors what was wrong with me from the time I was 15 years old. They ran tests, blood work to brain scans, and no answers. They wanted to give me medication, I asked, “If you don’t know what is wrong with me, how will medication help?” Another doctor told me it was all in my head. I responded, “If it is all in my head, why does my body hurt so much?” Folks, it is all in my head because that is where my brain is. My brain holds the memories. My brain can flood my body with chemicals that any drug pusher would envy. The whole body is a chemical factory and a mind tortured by PTSD randomly pours chemicals into the body responding to these memories. Only I no longer remembered what had happened. My body reacted to horrors that my conscious mind no longer had access to. Three years with no end in sight, I prayed for death. My answer was the feeling I would live a long time. I pleaded, “I can’t live with this any more!!!!!” Another feeling that came to my mind, “What are you going to do about it?”
This started my odyssey to fight back. I started with the symptoms I knew and started reading. The library was my best friend. No internet available to me 30 years ago. I prayed, studied, and tried experiments on myself. It was another 20 years before I started counseling. 10 years of counseling. Another year and a half on my own. I learned to measure progress in years, not hours, not days, not months……years. During counseling I was diagnosed with PTSD. What a relief. Gave me a clue what to look up and pursue in my research. Internet was invented and became another best friend. The one thing I found discouraging on the internet was almost everything was directed towards soldiers. I have the deepest respect for the military but I felt like an outsider. Over 50 years of living with PTSD I consider myself an expert on my experience. I share what I know. I hope some of what I share can help someone else. I recognize that every person has their own story. Having PTSD reminds me I survived. I learned how to live from my counselors. They gave me tools for coping, processing and living with PTSD. I am now on a 3 week trip across country with my daughter and grandchildren. I am a long ways from the exhausted body that struggled to feed my children and make sure they were alive at the end of the day. I don’t make any claims that I know how to cure anyone from PTSD. My claim is that every person that chooses to improve their life and works hard at will succeed. Improvement is an inside job. Counselors knowledgeable about PTSD can make a tremendous difference in guiding a person to better solutions. However, counselors don’t help anything without the clients cooperation. The person with PTSD has to do the work. Friends, family, and God are great support team. Friends and family need help understanding some of what we experience every day. Don’t be angry or discourage when they don’t get it. It is a lot to wrap your mind around. Your choice to patiently help them to become more aware of how to help and encourage is important. Please, be aware that some people will not accept or help. This is not your fault. Find your support team. Build a team of people that will accept even if they don’t understand. Internet is another tool but a dangerous one because there is misinformation and predators online. So I give a word of caution. Also what I write doesn’t apply to every person. Some people will disagree with me. That’s OK. I don’t have all the answers. I am cheering for each and every person that is facing the challenge of PTSD. The fight will be long but improvements can happen.