I live in a beautiful island, a place they call paradise, a place people go for vacations. And my life is enchanted. Always. I know. I am so lucky. And I have no right to ever feel sad or afraid. I should always be happy.
And I am a very happy person, really. I have a naturally cheerful disposition. I also have PTSD. And I hope one day I’m free of it. I will be. One day.
For the most part, my struggle with PTSD isn’t very obvious to anyone. Sometimes, it’s far more apparent.
Mostly, I’m good. On bad days, I am dissociating all day. I’m getting flashbacks, gasping like I can’t catch my breath, freaked out. I don’t think I say, “No!” anymore, when I get them. (I used to. Sometimes I probably still do). I just gasp, like I just saw a bee or something. It’s obvious that something’s going on, and I’m not ok, but I could probably get away with saying “I have anxiety.”
I do have anxiety. PTSD is an anxiety disorder. Well, actually technically in the new DSM it’s a trauma disorder. I think the best way to describe it, is that it’s part anxiety, part memory disorder. My memory is broken. I have bad memories that my brain keeps tricking me into thinking are happening RIGHT NOW.
When I get a flashback, I’m gone. I’m not in the current moment, standing next to you. I’m back in a bad place, and I’m terrified, and bad things are happening. I’m reliving a memory. It’s like I’m a time traveler. Except, I can only go back to the worst memories from my own timeline. And it’s all in my mind, I’m not actually, -physically- present in the past. It just feels like I am.
Flashbacks and nightmares are the worst parts of PTSD. But I struggle with all the symptoms. Low self-esteem, avoidance of reminders of trauma, self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behavior.
I don’t want to travel through time anymore. I don’t want to feel like the terrible trauma is happening to me again, and relive it, and feel like it -just- happened. It’s hard to explain to someone that, yes, even though I’m here with you, and we’re looking at this beautiful ocean, and nothing bad is happening to me right now, and I’m safe, to my brain, it’s as if it -just- happened. It’s as if, while you were standing here, I was being hurt. I jumped back in time, and it’s happening right now.
So when I’m jumpy or shaking, when I gasp like that, when I reach out and touch your arm, or when my hand flies to my chest/throat area, I’m trying to pull myself back into the present moment. Or sometimes even reminding myself who you are, where we are. I’m with you, I’m with someone safe. I know you.
Grounding techniques help sometimes. Grounding myself in the present moment, using my five senses. Like, literally saying, out loud, “I can hear the waves of the ocean, I can see the blue sky. I can see the mountain in the distance. I am standing on sand, and I can feel the soft sand on my feet. I am in Hawaii, in Honolulu, and I am safe. I can hear a dog barking, and a guitar playing…” And literally trying to use my five senses to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch what’s around me in my physical environment.
It helps sometimes. It’s hard to stay in the present moment though, when I’m feeling triggered and frightened. Singing helps sometimes too. I’m thinking about the music, the song, the lyrics, what part comes next. It gives me something to focus on. Writing helps. Being with other people helps a LOT.
I wish a scientist could explain to me why flashbacks, dissociating, and nightmares due to PTSD make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Hating myself, feeling worthless, having flashbacks, panic attacks… how is that helping me survive?
I don’t want time traveling to be a part of my life anymore, unless I’m physically traveling through time, and jumping forward into the future thousands of years from now when the world is a better place.
I think the worst part about PTSD is that it isn’t my fault. I have all these anxiety issues and sleep issues, panic attacks, flashbacks, feeling worthless… all these things… and it’s because of something terrible that happened to me. I am so angry that the men who hurt me get to have that part of me, get to damage part of me. They’re gone from my life, they shouldn’t be allowed to hurt me anymore. They should never have been allowed to hurt me in the first place.
And now they haunt me in my sleep, or they come back, pull me back in time to those horrible moments.
I am determined to be free of this awful disorder one day. Hopefully soon.