I was going to write a blog about the power of forgiveness or about the healing I have found in meditation during my grief journey after losing my fiance to suicide. (If you haven’t read my previous blogs, I witnessed my fiancé’s suicide by shotgun.) But honestly, today, I would feel like a fraud writing that.
Because I am not okay.
And that is okay.
If anyone reading this has suffered from PTSD, you know what a silent battle it is we fight. If you are reading this and you don’t have PTSD, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with it. It certainly isn’t the same synopsis I’ve read for war veterans, but it does have some (much milder) similarities.
I describe my PTSD as a muffled buzz in your ear. At times it’s background noise and other times it’s piercing and you can’t hear anything beyond it. But it’s always there. Reminding you that you aren’t as okay as you appear. The more you try to ignore it, the louder it gets.
I don’t sleep…
My main consistent symptom from my PTSD is that I can’t sleep. I have nightmares of mangled bodies, people trying to kill me, or I just toss and turn all night for no apparent reason. Some nights are better than others, thankfully, but it can be rough. I lie awake with overwhelming anxiety and say the meanest things to myself before I catch myself. I say “what a loser you are that you didn’t answer that email.” “You fucking idiot, you never sent out that USB.” Etc.
My remedy: I listen to meditations, books on tape, or I repeat mantras to myself like “I am safe, I am lucky to be in a warm bed. I am doing my best. My best is good enough right now. My best will get better in time. No one is going to hurt me. I am safe and I will be okay.” That does seem to help a lot. If you want resources for meditations or anything, let me know!
I can’t regulate my emotions as easily…
Something that would normally just get on my nerves a little bit, makes me quite upset. It can be something as innocuous as a disagreement with a family member, and I am in tears running out of the room. It makes me feel a bit crazy, honestly. But my therapist explained that my window of tolerance is smaller after trauma. Essentially, my flight or fight response is working overtime and a tiny thing can feel like an attack.
Here’s a link if you want to read more about the Window of Tolerance by Good Therapy:
My remedy: I immediately spend time alone and take time to put everything in perspective. I do some breathing exercises and try to imagine a safe place in my mind where I feel at peace. (I will talk more about my safe place in my EMDR blog.)
I have impulse control issues…
These can manifest themselves in lots of ways but I mostly find it really hard to choose to do things like work, answer emails, pay bills, etc, over working out, going for a walk, listening to music, taking a bath, or other self care things. Of course self care is essential to healing, but it shouldn’t start to derail your work, and for me it is. I am lucky to have two wonderful jobs I love and honestly, after the first job is done, I have very little energy for my other job. The overwhelming anxiety I get doing things I did daily without hesitation, has been one of my most defeating struggles. It’s easy to feel like a failure. I try to be kind to myself and patient. I hope if you are going through anything similar, you learn to have a kind inner voice as well.
My remedy: I honestly haven’t really found one. I struggle with this a LOT! But I try to not be so hard on myself.
I have intense flashbacks…
I can be in the car, or sitting on the bed having a conversation with someone, and BOOM, I am back in my kitchen/living room looking at Andy, lying lifeless on the floor. When those visuals come back, dread, panic, and terror steal my breath and I start to cry. If I am with someone, I can typically keep this to a sob. But by myself, I hyperventilate and cry uncontrollably. I also had an incident where a family member became upset and was displaying anger and I LOST it. I was completely taken back to that night and I couldn’t breath. My sister was on the phone with me and helped calm me down, but still, it was pure terror. I had this irrational feeling that I was going to be hurt and someone was going to die. Even though I know he’d NEVER EVER do anything but yell.
My remedy: I again try to imagine my safe place in my mind and focus on my breathing. I also learned in EMDR to focus on my surroundings to remind myself I am not in my kitchen/living room anymore. A deep breath in, with my hand on my stomach, to the count of 3 and a deep breath out to the count of 3 also really helps.
I just wanted to take a moment and share what my PTSD looks like because I can’t compare it to a lot of what I read online. It’s not as extreme as a war veteran or someone that has experienced severe trauma over and over and over again! It doesn’t look the same for everyone and I would say mine is a mild case. I do struggle to get out of bed some days but I am still able to fully commit to one of my jobs. I also still do things like travel, shop, clean, and other everyday things that someone with extreme PTSD can’t even fathom accomplishing.
And for that, I am VERY thankful! It could always be worse, and it is important to remember that. But please also remember that IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY. It’s okay to ask for help, to reach out, to seek treatment, to say no to obligations in order to focus on your mental health. And don’t rush being okay again, it will come in it’s time.
I guess in a way, this blog did focus on healing and honestly, reminding myself that I have tools for all of my struggles, did actually help. I hope it helps someone else too. Even if only to realize you aren’t the only one that is smiling and looking completely normal on the outside, while inside you are so broken you wish you could wave a magical Harry Potter wand and be whole again. You are not alone. I am always here if you want to talk! Losing someone to suicide, or experiencing trauma, it is some hard shit! We all have our own timeline of healing and it isn’t a straight line. Every other time we get injured or sick, we know that each day will be easier than the last. Grief is nothing like that. You can be doing wonderfully and then all of a sudden, you feel back to square one and you can’t breath. An important date can come, like the 6 month mark, or a completely random experience can trigger it. It is quite the roller coaster. But, we are not on it alone. Even if it feels like we are sometimes. Someone is always a text or a phone call away. If you need that to be me, I am here! Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself and one another. (A little Ellen tribute)