I talk a lot about my recovery and I give a lot of advice on how to make the transition into recovery a little easier. But I haven’t much talked about my specific struggles. I don’t mean the things I’ve been through…I’m talking more about the emotional struggles. The things that go on inside my head that no one could ever truly understand. Everyone has their unique mental battles, and everyone has to learn how to deal with their own.
The main thing I want to address in this post is PTSD. PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder. Originally it was used to diagnose soldiers that were returning from war. It is categorized by flashbacks, nightmares, memory loss, being easily startled, a “numb” feeling, difficulty concentrating, and hypervigilance. Many times PTSD can lead to depression, anxiety attacks, even substance abuse in extreme cases. PTSD can be caused from many different things. Different types of abuse, war, an accident…any kind of traumatizing event. The event could also be a onetime occurrence, or something that was ongoing.
In my case my PTSD was caused over a number of years of abuse…mental and physical. I was diagnosed in high school after finding a psychologist that dealt specifically with mental disorders such as PTSD. At the time I was a mess and I didn’t realize how far I’d fallen. I had taken the numb feeling on completely, but would have random outbursts of being really angry, to being really sad. My mood swings would catch me off guard, but I took it as part of the hormones involved in being a teenager. I had a very hard time concentrating on anything…school, work, friends. I was so stressed out with other things going on in my head…that I had a really hard time getting anything done to my full capacity.
After going to the psychologist for awhile, I was diagnosed with depression as well. I was often exhausted, and was very easily overwhelmed. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the flashbacks and anxiety attacks really started. I remember one night in particular that my mom and I were watching a talk show, and they showed a parent hitting a child. While it was just a reenactment…it threw me into my first real attack. I remember being frozen in place, and it was like something was forcing me to think about events in the past. My head hurt, my chest became incredibly heavy, and it took my breath away. The best comparison I can think of is when you walk into a very cold wind, and can’t seem to take a full breath. I felt my heart beat heavily against my chest, and it felt like it was overworking itself. I got dizzy, and my hands shook uncontrollably. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, because I realized I had no control over the flashbacks and anxiety attacks.
Those attacks continued for a long time, and on occasion they still happen. Not nearly as often as they did at the time, thank goodness. I eventually started to find my personal “triggers”. Basically anything that would throw me into an attack. Males speaking to me loudly or in an aggressive tone was a big one. Sometimes it would be just joking around, and someone would say something in the wrong tone, or with the wrong wording, and I’d feel my chest tighten. Other times it was someone physically touching me the wrong way. A hand on the wrong part of my arm, a hug from behind…anything that caught me slightly off guard. I was increasingly jumpy…and being startled would lead to an attack.
For a long time it seemed like everything was a trigger…and it was hard to say how hard it would hit. Some attacks were limited, and would just lead to my heart beating a little too fast. Those were easy to talk myself out of. But other times they would be just like that first attack. A few times it got to the point that someone else had to calm me down. I wouldn’t be able to catch my breath, or slow my heart down. I’d get dizzy and lightheaded…which would force me into a deeper panic.
I was put on an anti-depressant. I took the anti-depressant for a few months, and my energy level got better. I was able to focus a little better, and my anxiety started to go down a little bit. I worked really hard with my psychologist on desensitization. She would have me run through specific experiences in my childhood involving my father. As I’d start to fall into a flashback and I’d start to panic, she’d talk me out of it. Eventually the severity of the panic went down…and I was able to have more control over the flashbacks. I never had full control, but it got better.
It wasn’t until working for awhile, that I realized I was forgetting things. There would things I would think of that had happened, or had read in police reports…that I couldn’t remember. I might remember the general event, or a random detail from that night…but I wouldn’t be able to remember specifics. I wouldn’t know what had happened…who had specifically been involved…or what the outcome had been. There were a few instances that I blocked out completely…that I still don’t remember fully today.
I was only on the pills for a few months. The idea of them started to bother me. I was taking a medication to alter my personality and my reactions. I understood that I was using them correctly and I “needed” them…but it seemed to alike to what my father did. He used substances to change himself. To change his feelings, and to mask reality. Wasn’t that what I was doing? Against the advice of my doctor and everyone else…I took myself off the pills.
(Now a quick disclaimer…anti-anxiety/antidepressants should only be used under the care and supervision of a licensed doctor. And should never be discontinued without doctor’s approval and help. This was my personal decision, and was against medical advice.)
After going off the pills I had intense mood swings. The anxiety came back, but I was determined to fight it on my own. I still struggle with my PTSD and anxiety, and the symptoms pop up at random times. But that’s just part of my recovery. I get stronger every day, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.
I am just like my father in many ways. And this is one. I have a disease that I can’t control. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t cause it…but it’s a part of me. We are alike in that aspect. He has a disease that he can’t control. He didn’t ask for it, he didn’t cause it, but it’s a part of him. But there is a huge difference between my father and I. It’s something I’ve tried to stress to him. I choose to fight. Despite how hard it’s been, despite the challenges I’ve had to face because of it…I don’t give up. I don’t let it rule my life and I never will. I just wish he was willing to take that same step. I wish he was strong enough to fight.
So I’m back to what this blog is all about. It’s about learning from experiences, and never letting life take advantage of you. Everyone is strong enough to fight if they make the choice to. There are such things as miracles if you have hope. Any situation can be changed. Maybe not immediately…but with time, patience, and faith…anything can happen.